Prosecutors in the Philippines have charged a U.S. marine with the October murder of a transgender woman. The case had fueled widespread protests, and anti-American sentiments, in the country.
Prosecutors said Monday that U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton used "treachery, abuse of superior authority and cruelty" against 26-year-old Jennifer Laude, who was formerly known as Jeffrey. She was found dead in a motel room in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila, in October, according to The Associated Press (AP). The victim was reportedly drowned in a toilet bowl, and also had marks of strangulation on her neck. Pemberton, who had just completed military exercises in the city, was the last person seen with her after they checked into the motel room together.
"You can see the kind of cruelty she (victim) endured, the injuries she sustained," Emily de los Santos, the lead prosecutor, said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) adding: "We believe we have a strong case."
The murder charge is a non-bailable one. Pemberton had requested prosecutors to reduce the murder charge to a homicide, the maximum jail term for which is 20 years, compared to 40 years for a murder, AFP reported.
Laude’s death led to protests on Philippines' streets demanding that the government detain Pemberton at military headquarters in Manila rather than on a U.S. warship. According to a 1998 agreement, Philippines authorities have jurisdiction over American troops accused of crimes in the country, but allows them to be held in U.S. custody. The government eventually acceded to the protesters' demands.
"We look forward to the full cooperation of the US government in ensuring that justice is secured for Jeffrey 'Jennifer' Laude," Charles Jose, a spokesperson for Philippines' foreign ministry said, according to AFP.
President Benigno Aquino had said in October that he did not want the crime to affect relations between Manila and Washington. "Name me any place that doesn't have any crime. And the sin of one person should be reflective of the entire country? I don't think so," Aquino had said in October, according to AFP.
The U.S. recently signed a defense accord -- expected to help counter China's growing heft in the region -- with the Philippines that would provide it with better access to the latter’s military camps, AP reported.