A U.S. Marine has been convicted of killing a transgender Filipina last year in a motel room in the Philippines — a case that has ignited an uproar in the region and reintroduced a debate over U.S. military presence.

A Philippine court on Tuesday found Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 20, guilty of homicide for choking and then drowning Jennifer Laude, 26, in a toilet bowl in a motel bathroom. Authorities said Pemberton, who was on shore leave in Olongapo City during joint military exercises, killed Laude one night in October 2014 after he discovered that she was transgender.

“It’s murder,” prosecutor Emily de los Santos said last year, according to the Associated Press. “It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty.”

But the judge in the case said Laude’s death was not murder because it did not involve treachery, superior force and cruelty — elements needed to prove murder under Philippine law. Pemberton was convicted of homicide, sentenced to six to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay about $98,000 in damages to Laude’s family, court clerk Gerry Gruspe told the Associated Press.

Pemberton was credited with time served, Gruspe said.

Pemberton, an antitank missile operator from New Bedford, Mass., was among 3,500 U.S. sailors and Marines visiting the Philippines for joint military exercises.

Philippine police said Pemberton met Laude and another transgender woman named Barbie during a break on Oct. 11, 2014, when he went with other Marines to a bar in Olongapo. He later went with the two transgender women to a motel.

Witnesses said in court that Laude, also known as Jeffrey Laude, was a sex worker, according to the Associated Press. Later that night, police said, the other woman told Laude that the two should leave before Pemberton found out they were transgender.

The judge, Roline Ginez-Jabalde, said Pemberton became confused when he discovered that “the woman he hired for sex was male,” according to Bloomberg News.

At trial, Pemberton said that he found out Laude was a male after she had performed oral sex on him and that he was “disgusted and repulsed,” according to CNN Philippines. He said that he pushed her and that she then slapped him with such force that “his ear started ringing,” according to CNN. As she was about to hit him again, he told the court, he punched her and then choked her.

Pemberton said he then dragged Laude to the toilet — because the shower was broken — and tried to use toilet water to revive her, according to CNN.

Pemberton claimed Laude was alive when he left the motel room.

The court said she drowned in the toilet bowl while unconscious.


Julita Laude, mother of the slain Jennifer Laude, said she was disappointed with the court ruling because she had hoped that Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton would be convicted of murder, not homicide. (Jun Dumaguing/EPA)

For many, Laude’s death brought back memories of past incidents involving American service members.

In 2005, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was accused of raping a Philippine woman as three other Marines cheered him on, The Washington Post reported last year. He was convicted in a Philippine court and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2009, his accuser recanted and his conviction was overturned, The Post reported last year.

According to The Post’s Craig Whitlock:

The outcome stirred suspicion among many Filipinos, in part because U.S. officials granted Smith’s accuser a visa to live in the United States after she changed her story.

The Philippines — once a U.S. colony — served as a keystone of the U.S. military presence in Asia for most of the 20th century. In 1992, however, the Philippines rejected a proposed defense treaty and kicked the U.S military out of its sprawling naval base in Subic Bay. The United States was also forced to abandon nearby Clark Air Base after a volcanic eruption rendered it unusable.

In recent years, both countries have sought to rebuild defense ties. Last year, President Obama visited Manila to sign a deal to expand military cooperation with the Philippines.

Pemberton has been detained for more than a year at a Philippine military camp that is guarded by U.S. Marines.

Chuck Little, a spokesman for U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, said Pemberton will remain at Camp Aguinaldo.

“We are in discussion with Philippine authorities on a long-term detention plan should the conviction be upheld throughout that appeals process,” Little said in an e-mail.

Laude’s mother, Julita Laude, said she was disappointed because she had hoped that Pemberton would be convicted of murder, not homicide.

“But the important thing is he will be jailed,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “My son’s life is not wasted.”

This story has been updated.