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US Marine convicted of killing transgender woman begins appeal

Published 06/01/2016

In December a judge convicted Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton of homicide
In December a judge convicted Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton of homicide

A US Marine has asked a Philippine court to reverse his conviction in the killing of a transgender woman and sought a bail and a reduction of his six to 12-year jail term, his lawyer said.

Lawyer Rowena Garcia-Flores said she would insist that her client, Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, did not kill Jennifer Laude in a hotel room after they met in a disco bar in October 2014 and that his sentence should be eased because he surrendered to authorities.

In December a judge convicted Pemberton of homicide, not the more serious charge of murder as prosecutors sought.

The regional trial court judge in Olongapo city, north-west of Manila, said she downgraded the charge because conditions such as cruelty and treachery had not been proven.

The court will start to hear Pemberton's appeal on Thursday.

"We're going for an acquittal," Ms Flores said. "He defended himself because he felt he was being conned but he did not kill Laude."

In case the court upholds the conviction, Ms Flores said she and other defence lawyers asked the court to consider easing Pemberton's sentence because he surrendered to authorities and that he had "no intention to commit so grave a wrong".

The killing sparked anger in the Philippines and reignited calls by left-wing groups and nationalists for an end to America's military presence in the country at a time when the US is reasserting its dominance in Asia and Manila has turned to Washington for support amid an escalating territorial dispute with China.

Pemberton, an anti-tank missile operator from New Bedford, Massachusetts, was one of thousands of American and Philippine military personnel who participated in joint exercises in the country in 2014.

He and a group of other Marines were on leave after the exercises and met Ms Laude and her friends at a bar in Olongapo, a city known for its nightlife located outside Subic Bay, a former US Navy base. At least two witnesses testified that Ms Laude was a sex worker.

Pemberton, 21, has been detained at a compound guarded by Philippine and American security personnel, at the main military camp in metropolitan Manila, and not in an ordinary jail as demanded by Ms Laude's family.

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