A US Marine convicted of killing a Filipino transgender woman was deported yesterday after a presidential pardon cut short his detention in a case that renewed outrage over a pact governing the US’ military presence in the Philippines.
Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton said in a farewell message that he was “extremely grateful” to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for pardoning him and expressed his “most sincere sympathy” to the family of Jennifer Laude, who he was convicted of killing in 2014 after finding out that she was a transgender at a motel northwest of Manila.
During his five-year confinement, Pemberton said he spent “much time contemplating the many errors” he committed the night Laude died.
Photo: EPA-EFE / Philippines Bureau of Immigration Public Information Office
“He wishes he had the words to express the depth of his sorrow and regret,” according to Pemberton’s message, which was issued by his lawyer, Rowena Garcia-Flores.
Philippine immigration officers and US personnel escorted the 25-year-old Pemberton, who was in handcuffs and wearing a face mask, from his cell in the main military camp in metropolitan Manila to the airport, where he boarded a US military aircraft.
Ahead of the flight, he was subjected to a COVID-19 test, which was negative, immigration spokeswoman Dana Sandoval told reporters.
The US embassy said “all legal proceedings in the case took place under Philippine jurisdiction and law” and that “Pemberton fulfilled his sentence as ordered by Philippine courts.”
On Monday last week, Duterte granted an “absolute and unconditional pardon” to Pemberton in a move that caught many by surprise.
Duterte’s pardon was condemned by left-wing and LGBTQ groups.
Debate has brewed whether the Marine, whose detention was arranged under the treaty allies’ Visiting Forces Agreement, can be covered by a Philippine law that grants shorter jail terms to ordinary prisoners for good conduct.
The Regional Trial Court in Olongapo city, which handled Pemberton’s case, ruled that the law covers Pemberton and ordered authorities on Sept. 1 to release him early for good conduct.
However, Laude’s family and the Philippine Department of Justice separately appealed, blocking his early release from a maximum prison term of up to 10 years.
Duterte said he granted the pardon because Pemberton was not treated fairly after his early release, which he said the Marine may have deserved, was blocked.
The court order rekindled perceptions that US military personnel who run afoul of Philippine laws can get special treatment under the Visiting Forces Agreement, which provides the legal terms for temporary visits by US forces to the country for large-scale combat exercises.
Pemberton, an anti-tank missile operator from Massachusetts, was one of thousands of US and Philippine military personnel who participated in joint exercises in the country in 2014.
He and a few other US Marines were on leave after the exercises and met Laude and her friends at a bar in Olongapo, near Subic Bay, a former US Navy base.
Laude was later found dead, her head slumped in a toilet bowl in a motel room, where witnesses said she and Pemberton had checked in.
In December 2015, a judge convicted Pemberton of homicide, not the more serious charge of murder that Philippine prosecutors sought.
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