Prosecutors in the Philippines have formally charged a U.S. Marine with the murder of a transgender woman in October.
Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, is accused of strangling and drowning Jennifer Laude – whose previous name was Jeffery – in a toilet bowl, a case that Filipino advocates have called a “hate crime.”
Pemberton was among 3,500 U.S. troops in the country to participate in joint military exercises. But the murder case has raised new tensions that now threaten the longtime relationship between the United States and the Philippines, a former colony.
Prosecutors said they have “probable cause” to believe that Pemberton is responsible for Laude’s death.
“It’s murder,” prosecutor Emily de los Santos said, according to the Associated Press. “It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty.”
According to the Philippine National Police, Pemberton allegedly met Laude and another transgender woman named Barbie at a disco bar while on shore leave in Olongapo City.
The three checked into a motel, but later that night, Laude told the other woman that they should leave before Pemberton could discover that they were transgender.
Laude was found next to a toilet by the motel clerk, dead by apparent drowning. Pemberton was identified by the motel clerk and by Barbie in a photo lineup. He was held on a U.S. assault ship docked off the Philippine coast. But after anti-American protests, he was moved to a Philippine detention camp on land but remained in U.S. custody, according to the AP.
Suspects charged with murder in the Philippines are not eligible for bail. And according to de los Santos, Pemberton, who has not been seen publicly since being charged, would have to appear in court for an arraignment.
According to Reuters, an arrest warrant is expected to be issued within the next week. Under a longstanding agreement with the United States, suspects can remain in U.S. custody for the duration of criminal proceedings in the Philippines. The Philippines can request that the United States voluntarily turn over custody of a defendant in a criminal case. It is unclear whether the Philippines might make such a request in this case and how the United States would respond.
“We look forward to the full cooperation of the U.S. government in ensuring that justice is secured,” foreign ministry spokesman Charles Jose said in a statement.
The case is reminiscent of another case in which a U.S. military member was charged and convicted with murder in the Philippines, The Washington Post reported in October:
The murder investigation is drawing comparisons with a 2005 case in which another U.S. Marine, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, was accused of raping a Filipino woman in a van near Subic Bay while three other Marines watched and cheered.
Smith was convicted in a Philippine court and originally sentenced to life in prison. He was transferred to the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Manila and detained there until 2009, when his accuser recanted and his conviction was overturned. The outcome stirred suspicion among many Filipinos, in part because U.S. officials granted Smith’s accuser a visa to live in the United States after she changed her story.
Craig Whitlock contributed to this report.