A U.S. serviceman in the Philippines is accused of murdering a transgender Filipino in the central city of Olongapo on Tuesday, prompting lawmakers and activist groups to call for his custody.
U.S. Marine Joseph Pemberton is accused of killing Jennifer Laude, 26, a transgender woman who was found dead in a motel’s bathroom on Saturday night. A witness positively identified Pemberton as the last person who was with Laude after meeting in a bar, New York Daily News reported. A few hours later, a motel cleaner found her body slumped over the toilet, her neck broken because of apparent drowning and strangling.
Investigators said that the it appears Pemberton was frustrated to learn that Laude was a transgender. However, two used condoms were found in a trash can, further complicating the suspect’s possible motive.
The Marine is now held at the USS Peleliu ship, which is docked at the Subic Bay Free Port, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Manila, and not allowed to leave the country with the ongoing investigation. The Philippine police are set to file murder charges on Wednesday, police spokesman Wilben Mayor said, Associated Press reported.
Around 3,000 U.S. forces are in the Philippines to hold the annual military exercises with the Philippine military.
Also on Tuesday, around 40 protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Manila demanding the U.S. to hand over Pemberton to Philippine authorities.
However, “under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the custody of the erring soldier stays with the Americans,” said General Gregorio Catapang, head of the Philippine Army, after meeting the U.S. Pacific commander, Admiral Samuel Locklear. Locklear is in the Philippines to conduct the annual security talks with Philippine officials.
Catapang said the incident tainted the positive image of the recently concluded military exercise, in which the suspect took part, but maintained that “this will not affect our relationship with the United States.”
“We’re alarmed and hurt because the victim was a fellow Filipino,” Catapang told a news conference. “We have to give justice for his untimely death.”
It was not the first time a U.S. serviceman committed a crime in the country. In 2005, U.S. Corporal Daniel Smith was charged of raping a certain Nicole, who later recanted her accusations.