U.S. Marine to Face Court-Martial After Being Granted Presidential Pardon for Killing Transgender Filipino Woman

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Moshiuzzaman
Moshiuzzaman holds a 2:1 LL.B degree from BPP University (UK). He is currently pursuing the CFA chartership and working as an independent legal researcher at the American Society of International Law (ASIL)

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Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, a serving soldier of the U.S. Marines was granted a presidential pardon concerning the murder of a transgender Filipino woman. 

Background 

On the 11th of October 2014, Jennifer Laude, 26, was killed by Lance Corporal Joseph Pemberton, 19 (at the time), in Olongapo, Philippines. Pemberton was visiting the Philippines to partake a joint military exercise. Pemberton had met Jennifer at the Ambyanz disco bar on the evening of the incident. Sometime later, the two checked into the Calzone Lodge, a nearby motel. Thirty minutes after checking in, Pemberton left the motel. Soon after, Laude’s body was discovered from the room with her neck blanked with strangulation marks and her head shoved to a toilet bowl. In the autopsy report, the cause of death was found to be asphyxiation from drowning. 

DNA analysis of condoms recovered from the scene was conducted at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory. It was found that one of the three condoms in the bathroom of the hotel had Pemberton’s DNA. However, DNA found within the condom did not match with Pemberton. It was widely reported that Pemberton had admitted of murdering Jennifer after he found out he had been born a male and later, through gender reassignment, became a female.

Arrest and Trial

Initially, Pemberton was detained on board his assigned U.S. Navy ship. Later, he was brought to Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Filipino Armed Forces, where he was detained for further questioning. Olongapo City Prosecutor, on the 15th of December 2014 charged Pemberton with the murder of Jennifer Laude in a joint petition with the Laude family at the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74. Pemberton filed an appeal against the charges to the Secretary of Justice which was later denied. Pemberton admitted in court to have fought with Laude when he found out she was not born a biological female but claimed that he did not kill her. He stated that he had merely acted in self-defence.

Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde, sitting in the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74, on the 1st of December 2015, held that Pemberton was found guilty of homicide and that there was not sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove a murder case. Judge Ginez-Jabalde stated that Pemberton had only acted out of “passion and obfuscation”. Sentencing Pemberton to 10 years without the scope of bail, the judge ordered him to pay fines to the family of the victim. Pemberton was fined a total of 4.5 million Philippine pesos: 50,000 in civil indemnity, 4.3 million for loss of earning capacity, 155,000 for funeral and burial expenses, 50,000 for moral damages, and 30,000 for exemplary damages. 

Early Release, Presidential Pardon, and Deportment

On 7th September 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte granted an absolute pardon to Lance Corporal Pemberton. As the case had the potential of damaging the Philippines-United States Relationship, President Duterte’s decision was deemed to appease the Americans, something that was heavily criticized nationally, particularly the L.G.B.T. community of the Philippines. 

Last week, the Olongapo City Magistrates’ Court granted an appeal to Lance Corporal Pemberton for his immediate release following the presidential pardon. The court order directed the Bureau of Corrections to release the American serviceman. This was appealed by the Laude family. However, the court reasoned that Pemberton had already served almost six years, including the time between his arrest and conviction, and that he had executed the 10 years by means of a “good conduct time allowance”. Moreover, the victim’s family had received over $100,000 in civil damages. 

The court order rekindled the perception that the U.S. military personnel who violated Philippine laws may be afforded special treatment under the Allied Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which provides the legal framework for temporary visits of U.S. forces in the Philippines. 

Following his release, Lance Corporal Scott Pemberton was deported to the United States on the 13th of September via a special U.S. military aircraft. The Philippine Immigration Commissioner, Jaime Morente, in a press conference, has clarified that the deportation order means that the U.S. Marine was barred from ever entering the Philippines. 

Pemberton is currently in the custody of the U.S. Marine Corps and is expected to go through a court-martial sometime in the future. It is speculated that a team of representatives from the Philippines would attend and observe the court-martial hearings. The court-martial is also going to determine whether Pemberton can continue service in the Marine Corps. 


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