Open main menu

The death of Jennifer Laude occurred on October 11, 2014 in Olongapo, Philippines, when the 26-year-old Filipina trans woman was killed by 19-year-old Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, who had been unaware that Laude was transgender.[1]

Death of Jennifer Laude
Jennifer Laude.jpg
Facebook photo of Jennifer Laude
DateOctober 11, 2014 (2014-10-11)
VenueCelzone Lodge
LocationOlongapo, Philippines
CauseAsphyxiation by drowning
DeathsJennifer Laude
ConvictedJoseph Scott Pemberton
Convictions6-10 years in prison
Reduced from 6-12 years in prison

This is the second reported criminal case involving a United States Marine in the Philippines under the existing Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement and the first since the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. The murder spawned protests in the Philippines by transgender rights 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.[2][3][4] According to police and witnesses, they subsequently went to Celzone Lodge, a nearby motel.[5][6] 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.[7] 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.[8][9][10] The DNA within the condoms also did not match Laude's DNA.[11] The cause of death was reported as "asphyxiation by drowning".[12][9]

Pemberton was in the Philippines to take part in regular military exercises.[9] His ship was docked at Subic Bay Freeport, former home of the Subic Bay Naval Base, once the largest US Navy bases outside the United States.[9][13][14]


Jennifer Laude was born on November 4, 1988. At the time of her death, she was engaged to a German national named Marc Sueselbeck. While having a drink with her friend Barbie Galvino at the Ambyanz Disco in Olongapo City, on October 11, 2014, she met a "white 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.[8]

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.[15]

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.[16] The prosecutor decided to pursue murder charges because of the "presence of treachery, cruelty, and abuse of superior strength".[16] Pemberton appealed the prosecutor's decision to the Secretary of Justice but that appeal was denied.[15] On February 23, 2015, Pemberton was brought to court in Olongapo and the court entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.[15] The pre-trial hearings began February 27, 2015.[15] The murder trial began on March 16.[15] Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the local courts have one year to complete any legal proceedings.[15]

Pemberton was represented by Rowena Flores,[15] and the trial was heard by Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde.[15]

Reporters were banned from the courtroom and relied upon second-hand reports from the Laude family's lawyers for their news articles.[17]

The Daily Mail in March reported that 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.[18] The Daily Mail quoted Julita Cabillan, Laude's mother, as saying they had rejected the offer, since "No amount of money could pay for the years I spent raising my child."[18] 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".[18]

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.[19]

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 thay a new prosecutor be assignment, citing the refusal of de los Santos to work with the family's private lawyers.[19] The prosecution rested on June 30, 2015.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22] The court said, "The killing of Laude amounted only to homicide" and did not meet the standards for murder.[22] Pemberton, in the court's view, acted out of "passion and obfuscation".[22] The court ruled Pemberton that "in the heat of passion, he arm-locked the deceased, and dunked his (her) head in the toilet."[22] 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."[23] Laude's mother, Julita Laude, also was not happy, saying she believed Pemberton was guilty of murder.[24] Still, she added,"But the important thing is he will be jailed. My son's life is not wasted."[24]

Pemberton remained at Camp Aguinaldo and under the Bureau of Corrections control until the appeals were heard.[22] Pemberton was ordered to pay fines to the Laude family totaling over 4.5 million Philippine pesos: 50,000 pesos 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.[22][25]

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.[26]


Vice President Jejomar Binay offered his condolence to Julita Laude, the mother of Jennifer Laude during the wake of the latter Laude.

The case has the potential to damage Philippines–United States relations. There is an existing Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), complemented by the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and by annual military exercises known as Balikatan, all of which are under greater scrutiny.[2] Several protests have been organized in the Philippines and the United States calling for the Philippines to cancel both agreements.[2]

This is the second reported criminal case involving a United States Marine in the Philippines under the existing Visiting Forces Agreement. 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 and immediately emigrated to the United States.[2]

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.[27][28][29] 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 Visiting Forces Agreement 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.[30] The Philippines was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946.[31]

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".[32]

In 2018, director PJ Raval released a documentary Call Her Ganda, following the three women intimately invested in the case, an activist attorney, a transgender journalist and Jennifer's mother.[33]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Philippine court upholds guilty verdict on U.S. Marine in..." April 10, 2017 – via
  2. ^ a b c d "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. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  3. ^ "Murder of Jennifer Laude 'monstrous' - German fiance". ABS-CBN News.
  4. ^ Norman P. Aquino (October 13, 2014). "U.S. Marine Held in Philippines After Transgender Murder". Bloomberg L.P.
  5. ^ Trisha Macas (October 16, 2014). "Transgender Jeffrey Laude: Badly bruised, wounded, drowned". GMA News. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  6. ^ "Olongapo slay suspect admitted he 'did something wrong' – mayor". Rappler. October 14, 2014. Retrieved October 18, 2014.
  7. ^ Per Liljas (October 23, 2014). "Witness Says Suspect U.S. Marine Didn't Know Murdered Filipina Was Transgender". TIME. Retrieved December 15, 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Revisiting the Jennifer Laude murder case". cnn.
  9. ^ a b c d "Marine accused in Philippine killing tests US ties". Associated Press. October 19, 2014.
  10. ^ "DNA samples in Laude case do not match Pemberton's". GMA News Online. November 28, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  11. ^ "Pemberton, Laude DNA don't match those in condoms: lawyer". ABS-CBN News.
  12. ^ Trefor Moss (October 19, 2014). "U.S. Won't Surrender Marine Charged With Murder in Philippines". The Wall Street Journal.
  13. ^ "U.S. Marine held in transgender death in Philippines -". CNN. October 15, 2014.
  14. ^ "Philippines: U.S. Marine ID'd for transgender death -". CNN. October 14, 2014.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h "Court enters not guilty plea for Pemberton in Laude murder case". GMA News. February 23, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Macatuno, Allan (May 5, 2015). "PNP expert: Laude strangled, drowned". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c "Philippine trial of US Marine starts after plea bargain fails". The Daily Mail. March 23, 2015.
  19. ^ a b "Trial begins in the killing of Jennifer Laude". The Daily kos. March 24, 2015.
  20. ^ "Prosecution rests case in Pemberton trial". Rappler. June 30, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  21. ^ "U.S. Marine found guilty of killing transgender Filipino". USA TODAY. December 1, 2015.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "US Marine Convicted of Killing Transgender Woman in Philippines". VOA.
  24. ^ a b "US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton convicted of homicide in killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude in Philippines". December 1, 2015.
  25. ^ "US marine guilty of Filipina transgender killing". BBC News.
  26. ^ "Court affirms Pemberton's conviction but reduces sentence to up to 10 years". CNN Philippines. April 3, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  27. ^ "I, too, cry justice for Jennifer". Bulatlat.
  28. ^ "Demand attendance of 4 US Marines in Laude death probe, DFA, DOJ told". GMA News.
  29. ^ Per Liljas. "Philippines: Transgender Murder Becomes Rallying Point for LGBT Rights". Time.
  30. ^ Sison, Bebot Jr. (December 20, 2014). "Pemberton seeks downgrade of raps". The Philippine Star. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Gonzales, Joseph T. (October 19, 2014). "J. Laude and proud: Looking askance". The Philippine Star. Retrieved December 4, 2014.
  33. ^ "Tribeca 2018: The Best LGBT Films to See at This Year's Festival, From 'Disobedience' to 'Studio 54' Documentary". Indiewire. April 18, 2018.