Jennifer Laude case: Duterte pardons US marine over transgender killing

US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton (C) is escorted by U.S. security officers into a court in Olongapo city, north of Manila December 1, 2015.
Joseph Pemberton (C) was tried for murder in 2015

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn criticism from rights groups after pardoning a US marine convicted of killing a transgender woman.

Mr Duterte issued the pardon on Monday to Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who has been in prison since 2014 for the murder of Jennifer Laude.

Pemberton has served just over half of a 10-year sentence for the murder.

Virginia Suarez, a lawyer for Laude’s family, called the decision a “mockery” of the country’s justice system.

The former US marine had been granted early release last week by a local court for good behaviour, but the decision was held pending an appeal by lawyers for Laude’s family. That process was negated by the pardon.

“The president has erased the remaining punishment against Pemberton,” announced Harry Roque, Mr Duterte’s spokesman. “He can now go home because of the pardon.”

There was no immediate announcement of a release date.

Pemberton met Laude in a bar in Olangapo in October 2014, while he was on leave after joint US-Philippines military exercises. Police said the pair checked into a hotel, where she was found dead the following day, slumped over the toilet, apparently strangled.

The marine testified in court that he had attacked Laude after he realized she was transgender, but claimed she was still alive when he left the room.

Ms Suarez, the Laude family lawyer, deplored the pardon.

“This is another injustice, not only to Jennifer Laude and family but a grave injustice to the Philippine people. This is a travesty of Philippine sovereignty and democracy,” she said in a statement.

Mr Duterte’s decision sent a “loud and clear message that a Filipino trans woman’s life does not matter”, said UP Babaylan, a local LGBT rights group, in a statement co-signed by other rights groups.

The decision has also outraged LGBTQ+ groups.

The hastag #JusticeForJenniferLaude was trending globally on Twitter on Monday.

A supporter of a LGBTQ+ group protests the early release of U.S. soldier Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton
Rights groups objected to the early release of the former Marine

In one of the most shared tweets, Philippine human rights activist Chel Diokno called the pardon an “affront to Jennifer Laude and her family” and a “big step backward for justice in this case and in our country”.

The murder case has strained ties between the US and the Philippines, a former US colony where the Americans retain a significant military presence.

Under the terms of a defense pact between the two countries, the US retained custody of Pemberton throughout his trial and incarceration, meaning he served his sentence on a US military base rather than a Philippine prison.

Some view the decision to pardon him as a concession towards the US.

“For as long as the US maintains hegemony over our military, economy, and politics, there will be no #JusticeForJennifer and for the Filipino LGBTQ+”, tweeted Bahaghari, another Filipino LGBT rights group.

Last week, Mr Roque, who was a lawyer for the Laude family before becoming Mr Duterte’s spokesman, had condemned the court decision to release the US marine early, saying on Twitter that Laude’s death “personifies the death of Philippine sovereignty”.

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