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Philippine court orders early release of US Marine convicted in brutal killing of transgender woman

A judge advocate office gavel. (Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Boutte/U.S. Air Force)

A local court in the Philippines has ordered the early release of Joseph Scott Pemberton, a U.S. Marine who was convicted in the 2014 killing of Jennifer Laude.

On Tuesday, Presiding Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde signed an order stating that Pemberton “is now entitled to be released for he had already served the ten (10) year maximum of his penalty,” after the court credited him time for good behavior, CNN Philippines reported.

Pemberton was convicted of homicide in 2015.

After meeting 26-year-old Laude at a nightclub in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila, on Oct. 11, 2014,  they agreed to go to a motel across the street.

Laude, who was transgender, was later found dead at the motel. She was mostly naked, wrapped in a bedsheet, and her head was submerged in the toilet bowl.

An official report released a few days later by the Philippine National Police and the Regional Crime Laboratory Office confirmed that she had died due to “asphyxia by drowning.”

According to The Associated Press, a witness told investigators that Pemberton, who was 19 at the time of the crime, said he choked Laude after discovering she was transgender.

Pemberton was initially sentenced to six to 12 years, but a year later his sentence was reduced to a maximum of 10 years in jail.

Last week, the Phillipine Supreme Court granted Pemberton’s motion to withdraw an appeal of his conviction and considered the case “closed and terminated.”

On Tuesday, the Olongapo court ordered his early release for good conduct.

The victim’s family appealed the court’s decision on Wednesday, saying that he shouldn’t be released early without proof of good behavior.

The motion for reconsideration also noted  that Pemberton has been granted special privileges: he has been serving his sentence “comfortably,” and he never even joined convicts at the National Bilibid Prison, a crowded national prison in Manila. Instead, he has been detained at a special facility built at a military camp, in line with the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S., which allows U.S. troops to operate in the region.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque blasted the court’s decision, saying in a statement that, “Laude’s death personifies the death of Philippine sovereignty and the light penalty imposed on Pemberton proves that despite the President’s independent foreign policy, that Americans continue to have the status of conquering colonials in our country.”

LAGABLAG, a network of groups that advocate for LGBTQ rights in the Philippines, called Pemberton’s “another injustice to the memory of Jennifer, her family, and the country.”

“Pemberton has served only six years of his 10 year sentence. Our sister, Jennifer Laude, suffered a most violent and gruesome death under the hands of Pemberton.”


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