Joseph Scott Pemberton, a U.S. Marine, has been charged by Philippines prosecutors with murder for allegedly killing Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old transgender Filipina woman, in October of this year.
Laude was brutally beaten and murdered in the port city of Olongapo on October 2 and Pemberton was the last individual seen with her in the hotel where she was later found. Her death at the suspected hands of a U.S. soldier sparked a wave of protests across the Philippines and #justiceforjennifer became a trend topic on social media that focused both on the treatment of members of the transgender community and the negative consequences of the U.S. military presence in the country.
"We filed a murder case," said Emilie Fe delos Santos, head of the public prosecutor's team. "You can see the kind of cruelty she endured, the injuries she sustained."
The government's case, she added, was strong case. "It's a capital offense so there will be no bail. There was aggravated treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty."
Harry Roque, a lawyer representing the victim's family, said, "This is not an ordinary murder. This is heinous because she was beaten up."
Marilou Laude, Jennifer's sister, told reporters: "We will not accept anything less than justice."
Under an agreement with the Filipino government, Pemberton will remain in the custody of the U.S. military during the trial, which will be heard by a judge, not a local jury.
As Reuters reports:
The crime has added to pressure on the government of President Benigno Aquino to renegotiate the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), testing security ties as the two allies face growing tension in the South China Sea.
Manila and Washington signed the enhanced defense cooperation pact in April, allowing U.S. forces a greater and sustained presence in the Philippines for maritime security and disaster and humanitarian operations.
Nine American warships canceled port visits in October and November, after Pemberton's arrest.
The trial court in Olongapo City handling the case is expected to issue an arrest warrant within the week, as well as an order to put Pemberton in jail.
Reaction to the news of the charges was gathering on Twitter: