Philippine prosecutors charged a 19-year-old US Marine with murder on Monday in the violent October killing of a 26-year-old transgender woman in Olongapo City.
Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton is accused of strangling Jennifer Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, and drowning her in a toilet bowl at a hotel in Olongapo, northwest of Manila, after discovering when she undressed that she was transgender.
Prosecutor Emilie de los Santos said that there is "probable cause" to believe the Marine killed Laude and that the act was "aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength, and cruelty," according to the Associated Press.
Three of Pemberton's fellow Marines accompanied him that evening and later spoke with authorities.
According to prosecutors, the Marines said in their statements that they had been drinking at various bars in the bustling port city when they each separately left with different women and checked into nearby motels.
The Philippine National Police said Pemberton met Laude and another transgender woman named Barbie at a disco bar. Pemberton was seen checking into a motel with Laude, and left the lodgings shortly before a clerk discovered her body next to the toilet.
Barbie and the clerk identified Pemberton in a police lineup.
In his statement, Lance Cpl. Jairn Michael Rose told authorities that after the Marines returned to the ship separately before midnight, Pemberton admitted to him that he had choked Laude with his arm before dragging her to the bathroom.
"I think I killed a he/she," Pemberton reportedly told Rose.
Pemberton was detained and initially held on a docked US assault ship. He was one of 3,500 US troops who had arrived in the country to perform joint military drills under a visiting forces agreement (VFA) between the countries.
After a number of anti-American protests broke out, the Marine was later moved to a Philippine military prison camp on land but remained in US custody. Local activist groups have condemned the attack as a hate crime, and have called for the Philippine government to scrap its VFA with the US.
The two nations had recently signed the accord to strengthen ties and set up a strategic alliance that would help safeguard the Philippines against what it sees as China's aggressive moves into disputed territories in the South China Sea, while also allowing the US to maintain a greater military presence in the region.
De los Santos said she expects Pemberton to be arraigned in a Philippine court on the murder charges. Under Philippine laws, the Marine would be precluded from seeking bail.
Pemberton can legally remain in US custody throughout the criminal proceedings, according to a long-held agreement between the countries on the custody of American military personnel.
The Philippine government can request the Marine he handed over to local authorities at any time, but is not known whether the government will make such a request. The Southeast Asian country's Department of Foreign Affairs previously issued a statement saying that the country looks "forward to the full cooperation of the US government in ensuring that justice is secured for Laude."
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