Killing of Jennifer Laude

(Redirected from Death of Jennifer Laude)

On October 11, 2014, Jennifer Laude (Tagalog pronunciation: [ˈlaʊdɛ]), a Filipina trans woman, was drowned to death by Joseph Scott Pemberton, a Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps in Olongapo, Philippines.[2] Pemberton admitted assaulting Laude and deployed a trans panic defense in his 2015 trial.[3] His charge was downgraded from murder to homicide by a judge in 2015, and he was convicted on December 1, 2015. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte granted an absolute pardon to Pemberton in September 2020.[4]

Killing of Jennifer Laude
Ph locator zambales olongapo.png
Location of Olongapo within Central Luzon
LocationCelzone Lodge, Olongapo, Philippines
DateOctober 11, 2014 (2014-10-11)
Attack type
Homicide, asphyxiation by drowning, hate crime
VictimJennifer Laude
PerpetratorJoseph Scott Pemberton
VerdictGuilty on the lesser offense of homicide

This was the second reported criminal case involving a United States Marine in the Philippines under the Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the first since the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The killing spawned protests in the Philippines by transgender rights groups and other activists.


Laude, a trans woman, met Pemberton, a United States Marine from New Bedford, Massachusetts, at the Ambyanz disco bar in Olongapo on the evening of October 11, 2014.[5][6][7] According to police and witnesses, they subsequently went to Celzone Lodge, a nearby motel.[8][9] Thirty minutes after checking in, Pemberton left the motel, leaving the door to the room ajar. Staff found Laude's naked body, partially covered from the waist down, with her neck blackened with strangulation marks and her head in a toilet bowl.[10][11] Condoms recovered from the bathroom were subjected to DNA testing to determine if the semen it contained matched that of Pemberton. Forensic experts from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory determined that one of the three condoms and a condom wrapper recovered from the motel room had Pemberton's fingerprints.[11][12][13] The DNA within the condoms also did not match Laude's DNA.[14] The cause of death was reported as "asphyxiation by drowning".[15][12] Pemberton was reported to have later admitted that he murdered Laude after he found out she was transgender.[16]

Pemberton was in the Philippines to take part in regular military exercises.[12] His ship was docked at Subic Bay Freeport, former home of the Subic Bay Naval Base, once the largest US Navy base outside the United States.[12][17][18]


Jennifer Laude
Facebook photo of Jennifer Laude
Born(1987-11-04)November 4, 1987
DiedOctober 11, 2014(2014-10-11) (aged 26)
Olongapo, Philippines
Cause of deathHomicide by drowning[19]

Jennifer Laude was born on November 4, 1987. At the time of her death at the age of 26, she was engaged to a German national. While having a drink with her friend Barbie Gelviro at the Ambyanz Disco in Olongapo, on October 11, 2014, she met an American military foreigner and agreed to go with him to a "short time" hotel called the Celzone Lodge. Gelviro went also with her own companion, and the couples went to different rooms. Later that night Laude was found dead.[20]

Arrest and trialEdit

Following the death of Laude, Pemberton was detained by the U.S. Navy, first on board his ship and then inside Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, located in Quezon City, Metro Manila.[21]

On December 15, 2014, the Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office of the Philippine Department of Justice found probable cause to charge Pemberton with murder and that day he was charged with murder in front of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74.[22] The prosecutor decided to pursue murder charges because of the "presence of treachery, cruelty, and abuse of superior strength".[22] Pemberton appealed the prosecutor's decision to the Secretary of Justice, but that appeal was denied.[21] On February 23, 2015, Pemberton was brought to court in Olongapo and the court entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.[21] The pre-trial hearings began February 27, 2015.[21] The murder trial began on March 16.[21] Under the VFA, the local courts have one year to complete any legal proceedings.[21]

Pemberton was represented by Rowena Flores,[21] and the trial was heard by Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde.[21]

Reporters were banned from the courtroom and relied upon second-hand reports from the Laude family's lawyers for their news articles.[23]

Laude's relatives said they had been offered 21 million Philippine pesos (US$468,000) if they agreed to lower the charge from murder to homicide. Julita Cabillan, Laude's mother, said they had rejected the offer, since "No amount of money could pay for the years I spent raising my child". One of Pemberton's lawyers, Benjamin Tolosa, insisted that Pemberton's legal team had not offered any money, saying "It has been insinuated the demand came from us and that's absolutely false. It's contrary to what happened".[24]

Lawyers for the Laude family claimed that prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos had taken a statement by Laude's mother that she would not drop the case even if offered a million dollars as a sign that the family was open to a plea bargain, insisting the prosecutor had promoted that idea with defense attorneys.[25]

One of the Laude family's attorneys, Harry Roque, told the press that he had been barred by Prosecutor de los Santos from the trial. Laude's family submitted a letter to Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima requesting that a new prosecutor be assigned, citing the refusal of de los Santos to work with the family's private lawyers.[25] The prosecution rested on June 30, 2015.[26]

Pemberton admitted in court to fighting with Laude, but not to killing her. He claimed he acted in "self-defense" after he discovered Laude was transgender.[27]

Court decisionEdit

On December 1, 2015, the Olongapo Regional Trial Court found Pemberton guilty of homicide, citing mitigating circumstances including Laude not revealing her gender identity, and sentenced him to 6 to 12 years in jail.[28] The court said, "The killing of Laude amounted only to homicide" and did not meet the standards for murder.[28] Pemberton, in the court's view, acted out of "passion and obfuscation".[28] The court ruled Pemberton that "in the heat of passion, he arm-locked the deceased, and dunked her head in the toilet."[28] Harry Roque, the family's attorney, disagreed, saying "It is not right that these mitigating circumstances showed his bigotry towards a transgender woman and that the bigotry itself was the reason he killed her."[29] Laude's mother, Julita Laude, also was not happy, saying she believed Pemberton was guilty of murder.[30] Still, she added, "But the important thing is he will be jailed. My daughter's life is not wasted."[30]

Pemberton remained at Camp Aguinaldo and under the Bureau of Corrections control until the appeals were heard.[28] Pemberton was ordered to pay fines to the Laude family totaling over 4.5 million Philippine pesos: 50,000 pesos for civil indemnities, 4,320,000 pesos for loss of earning capacity, 155,250 pesos for funeral and burial expenses, 50,000 pesos for moral damages, and 30,000 pesos for exemplary damages.[28][31]

In a ruling issued by the Olongapo RTC Branch 74 on March 30, 2016, the court affirmed the conviction of Pemberton, while reducing the maximum sentence to 10 years from the original 12 years and also denying him bail.[32]

Early release and absolute pardonEdit

On September 2, 2020, Branch 74 of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court granted Pemberton's partial motion of reconsideration, thereby releasing him from prison. Judge Roline Ginez-Abalde said that Pemberton, then confined at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Custodial Center in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, had already served a jail sentence of ten years, one month, and ten days on account of his accumulated Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA). The Laude camp opposed the decision, saying, "Pemberton, who lives comfortably and only his liberty is restricted—cannot reasonably and justifiably claim good conduct”.[33][34][35]

On September 7, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte granted an absolute pardon to Pemberton,[36] which was justified by his spokesman Harry Roque, who was once a legal counsel for the Laude family.[37] Prior to this, Duterte himself promised to the Laude family that he will not release Pemberton during his presidency.[38] The pardon, which was condemned by the Laude family,[39] sparked outrage in the LGBT community,[40] as well as high-profile personalities from senators[41] to celebrities.[42] The hashtag #JusticeForJenniferLaude landed on the top trending spot in social media, where majority of the posts were critical of Duterte.[43]

The absolute pardon given by Duterte has been called "a grave injustice to the Filipino people", "a travesty of Philippine sovereignty and democracy", "a mockery of [the] judiciary and legal system", and "a shameless sell-out".[39] The pardon has also been analyzed as an act that "plac[es] the interests of the US government above the Filipino people’s demands for justice and accountability".[39] The lawyer of Pemberton later claimed that her client "always wanted to apologize" to Laude's family. The claims were afterwards debunked by the lawyer of the Laude family, who stated that since 2014, Pemberton never initiated any form of an apology.[44] Pemberton's lawyer has stated that her client's reaction to the pardon was "very happy", and that she advised Pemberton to apologize through a letter, instead of speaking personally with the Laude family.[45] On September 13, 2020, Pemberton was deported to the United States, after he had allegedly apologized to the victim's family and thanked Duterte for the pardon.[46] He is expected to enroll in a college in the United States.[47]

On September 14, 2020, during the daily COVID-19 press briefing, Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed that according to US authorities and the American Marine Corps, Pemberton would be facing a 'court martial' upon his return in the United States. The court martial would determine additional punishment for Pemberton and whether he is qualified to remain in service.[48]


The case has the potential to damage Philippines–United States relations. The VFA, complemented by the EDCA and by annual military exercises known as Balikatan, were put under greater scrutiny as several protests were organized in the Philippines and the United States calling for the Philippines to cancel both agreements.[5]

This is the second reported criminal case involving a United States Marine in the Philippines under the VFA. In 2005, four Marines were tried in the Philippines for rape in what became known as the Subic rape case. Three were acquitted at trial and the fourth was convicted at trial but later acquitted on appeal after victim "Nicole" recanted her testimony by saying the rape never happened and immediately emigrated to the United States.[5]

Transgender rights activists and the left-wing Bagong Alyansang Makabayan have protested what they see as the "special treatment" of U.S. troops, such as Pemberton, in the Philippines, compared to the second-class citizen treatment of Filipinos, such as Laude, in their own land, which they characterize as neo-colonialism.[49][50][51] The Communist Party of the Philippines condemned the United States' refusal to turn over full custody of Pemberton to Philippine authorities and called for the abolition of the VFA, which the party views as lopsided to US military interests and as violative of Philippine sovereignty. The communist group also views that the Philippine government refuses to fully assert full jurisdiction on the case.[52] The Philippines was a territory of the United States from 1898 to 1946.[53]

The case has also prompted a discussion on transgender rights. A columnist for The Philippine Star wrote that the case provides for an "opportunity to further gender sensitivity, promote LGBT rights, and encourage tolerance and acceptance."[54]

In 2018, director PJ Raval released the documentary Call Her Ganda, following the three women intimately invested in the case: an activist attorney, a transgender journalist and Laude's mother.[55]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Duterte pardons US marine over transgender killing". BBC News. September 8, 2020.
  2. ^ "Philippine court upholds guilty verdict on U.S. Marine in..." Reuters. April 10, 2017 – via
  3. ^ Stern, Mark Joseph (August 25, 2015). "Marine Who Allegedly Killed Trans Woman Claims He Was Defending His Honor". Slate Magazine. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  4. ^ Redfern, Corinne (September 17, 2020). "He Killed a Transgender Woman in the Philippines. Why Was He Freed?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Marine's murder charge in the Philippines has international consequences". Marine Corps Times. Archived from the original on October 19, 2014. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  6. ^ "Murder of Jennifer Laude 'monstrous' - German fiance". ABS-CBN News.
  7. ^ Norman P. Aquino (October 13, 2014). "U.S. Marine Held in Philippines After Transgender Murder". Bloomberg L.P.
  8. ^ Trisha Macas (October 16, 2014). "Transgender Jeffrey Laude: Badly bruised, wounded, drowned". GMA News. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  9. ^ "Olongapo slay suspect admitted he 'did something wrong' – mayor". Rappler. October 14, 2014. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  10. ^ Per Liljas (October 23, 2014). "Witness Says Suspect U.S. Marine Didn't Know Murdered Filipina Was Transgender". TIME. Retrieved December 15, 2014.
  11. ^ a b "Revisiting the Jennifer Laude murder case". CNN Philippines.
  12. ^ a b c d "Marine accused in Philippine killing tests US ties". Associated Press. October 19, 2014.
  13. ^ "DNA samples in Laude case do not match Pemberton's". Philippine Daily Inquirer. November 28, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  14. ^ "Pemberton, Laude DNA don't match those in condoms: lawyer". ABS-CBN News.
  15. ^ Trefor Moss (October 19, 2014). "U.S. Won't Surrender Marine Charged With Murder in Philippines". The Wall Street Journal.
  16. ^ Gomez, Jim (September 7, 2020). "US Marine Joseph Pemberton, convicted in 2014 murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude, pardoned by Philippine president". USA Today via Associated Press. Retrieved September 13, 2020. A witness told investigators that Pemberton said he choked Laude after discovering she was transgender.
  17. ^ "U.S. Marine held in transgender death in Philippines -". CNN. October 15, 2014.
  18. ^ "Philippines: U.S. Marine ID'd for transgender death -". CNN. October 14, 2014.
  19. ^ "Jennifer Laude died from drowning: autopsy report". Retrieved September 14, 2020.
  20. ^ "Revisiting the Jennifer Laude murder case". CNN Philippines. Retrieved September 14, 2020.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h "Court enters not guilty plea for Pemberton in Laude murder case". GMA News. GMA News. February 23, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  22. ^ a b MERUEÑAS, MARK (December 22, 2014). "Pemberton runs to De Lima, seeks dismissal of murder case". GMA News. GMA News. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  23. ^ Macatuno, Allan (May 5, 2015). "PNP expert: Laude strangled, drowned". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  24. ^ "Philippine trial of US Marine starts after plea bargain fails". AFP. March 23, 2015.
  25. ^ a b "Trial begins in the killing of Jennifer Laude". The Daily kos. March 24, 2015.
  26. ^ "Prosecution rests case in Pemberton trial". Rappler. June 30, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  27. ^ "U.S. Marine found guilty of killing transgender Filipino". USA TODAY. December 1, 2015.
  28. ^ a b c d e f "Pemberton meted 6 to 12 years for homicide in Jennifer Laude case". Archived from the original on December 4, 2015.
  29. ^ "US Marine Convicted of Killing Transgender Woman in Philippines". VOA.
  30. ^ a b "US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton convicted of homicide in killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude in Philippines". December 1, 2015.
  31. ^ "US marine guilty of Filipina transgender killing". BBC News. December 2015.
  32. ^ "Court affirms Pemberton's conviction but reduces sentence to up to 10 years". CNN Philippines. April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  33. ^ "Pemberton counsel seeks early release". Asian Journal. August 29, 2020.
  34. ^ "Court orders Pemberton's early release". CNN Philippines. September 2, 2020. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  35. ^ "Pemberton, convicted for slay of Jennifer Laude, ordered freed". GMA News. September 2, 2020. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  36. ^ Tomacruz, Sofia (September 7, 2020). "Duterte grants 'absolute pardon' to US soldier Pemberton". Rappler. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  37. ^ "After calling Pemberton release 'unjust,' Roque justifies Duterte pardon". Rappler. September 7, 2020.
  38. ^ "Duterte said Pemberton won't be freed while he's President, says Laude mom". GMA News Online.
  39. ^ a b c "Laude family condemns pardon granted to Pemberton". Manila Bulletin. September 7, 2020.
  40. ^ Cabato, Regine. "Philippines' Duterte pardons U.S. Marine convicted of murdering transgender woman" – via
  41. ^ "'An affront to the Filipino people': Opposition senators slam Pemberton pardon". Rappler. September 7, 2020.
  42. ^ Lalu, Gabriel Pabico (September 8, 2020). "Showbiz figures join critics in denouncing absolute pardon of Pemberton".
  43. ^ "#JusticeForJenniferLaude: Filipinos decry pardon for US soldier Pemberton". Rappler. September 7, 2020.
  44. ^ "Pemberton hopes to apologize to Laude family, bares plans after Duterte's pardon — lawyer". CNN Philippines.
  45. ^ Gonzales, Cathrine (September 8, 2020). "Pemberton 'very happy' on pardon grant from Duterte, says lawyer".
  46. ^ "Pemberton expresses 'sincere sympathy' to Laude family, thanks Duterte for pardon". CNN. September 13, 2020.
  47. ^ "Pemberton hopes to go back to school after Duterte pardon: lawyer". ABS-CBN News. September 8, 2020.
  48. ^ Patag, Kristine Joy (September 14, 2020). "Roque says Pemberton to face US court martial". Philstar Global.
  49. ^ "I, too, cry justice for Jennifer". Bulatlat. October 22, 2014.
  50. ^ "Demand attendance of 4 US Marines in Laude death probe, DFA, DOJ told". GMA News.
  51. ^ Per Liljas. "Philippines: Transgender Murder Becomes Rallying Point for LGBT Rights". Time.
  52. ^ Sison, Bebot Jr. (December 20, 2014). "Pemberton seeks downgrade of raps". The Philippine Star. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  53. ^ Whaley, Floyd (October 22, 2014). "U.S. Marine;s Arrest in Killing in Philippines May Test Ties". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  54. ^ Gonzales, Joseph T. (October 19, 2014). "J. Laude and proud: Looking askance". The Philippine Star. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  55. ^ "Tribeca 2018: The Best LGBT Films to See at This Year's Festival, From 'Disobedience' to 'Studio 54' Documentary". Indiewire. April 18, 2018.