Philippine trial of US Marine starts after plea bargain fails
The murder trial of a US Marine accused of killing a transgender woman in the Philippines began on Monday, after the victim`s family angrily rejected his plea bargain offer.
Manila: The murder trial of a US Marine accused of killing a transgender woman in the Philippines began on Monday, after the victim`s family angrily rejected his plea bargain offer.
Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton appeared in court dressed in a black suit and dark tie for the start of the trial, five months after he allegedly murdered Jennifer Laude in a red-light district hotel.
Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos told reporters that Pemberton`s lawyers had made an offer to settle the case, but no agreement was reached by Monday so the trial began.
De los Santos gave no details about the plea bargain offer.
But Laude`s relatives said they had received a letter from the US Marines offering 21 million pesos ($468,000) in exchange for their approval to lower the charge from murder to homicide.
"No amount of money could pay for the years I spent raising my child," Julita Cabillan, mother of Jennifer Laude, told reporters.
"What they did to my child was gruesome. Just because we are poor doesn`t mean we can`t fight for justice."
Pemberton, aged 19 at the time of the killing, would face 40 years in jail if found guilty of murder.
The maximum penalty for homicide in the Philippines is 20 years in jail.
Pemberton`s lawyers avoided speaking to the journalists at the court in the northern port city of Olongapo on Monday. A spokesman for the US embassy in Manila declined to comment on the case.
Laude, also known as Jeffrey, was found naked with strangle marks on her neck in a cheap motel room at Olongapo city`s red light district in October last year, according to a police autopsy report.
Pemberton, who had just finished training exercises between US and Philippine marines near Olongapo, checked into the motel with Laude, aged 26, shortly after meeting her at a bar, prosecutors said.
The prosecution`s first witness, a bellboy, testified on Monday that he saw Pemberton at the motel on the night Laude was killed.
However the proceedings were closed to the media, and scant details were only initially available via de los Santos.
She said that, although Laude`s family rejected the plea bargain offer, it could be revived and introduced "anytime" during the trial.
But lawyers for Laude`s family accused de los Santos of promoting the plea bargain, and separately filed a request with the justice department on Monday asking for her to be replaced.
Laude`s death re-ignited long-simmering anti-US sentiment in the Philippines, a former American colony that still allows a significant American military presence via joint training exercises.