Court enters 'not guilty' plea for Pemberton

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – The United States Marine charged with murder for the death of a Filipino transgender refused to enter a plea during his arraignment Monday, February 22, at the Bulwagan ng Katarungan (Hall of Justice) here.

Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, accused of killing transgender woman Jennifer Laude on October 11, 2014 in a hotel in this city, did not offer any plea after formal charges were read against him.

Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie delos Santos, who heads a team of public prosecutors handling this case, said that since Pemberton did not make a plea, the court made a plea of not guilty for the accused.

Delos Santos added that after the arraignment, a series of hearings will be held with the next one set on February 27 for the pre-trial and the trial proper starting on the third week of March.

Pemberton reportedly arrived at the city's Bulwagan ng Katarungan as early as 5 am for the 9 am arraignment with 14 US Embassy personnel and a couple of representatives for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The arraignment ended at around 10 am.

Pemberton, an active US marine was a participant in the RP-US Balikatan military exercises last year when he met Laude in a bar while on shore leave the night of October 11.

The two checked in at a nearby hotel and after Pemberton left, the dead body of Laude was discovered by hotel staff.

He was since then “detained inside a special detention facility in Camp Crame.

Meanwhile, Harry Roque, counsel for Laude's family, said that the no plea motion of Pemberton is a delaying tactic.

“At first, they (Pemberton’s camp) is asking the court to consider lowering the case to homicide instead of murder. Now they can’t make a plea,” Roque said, adding that Pemberton is hoping for a settlement.

“Pero, malinaw na malinaw po ang nais ng pamilya Laude na walang areglong mangyayari dahil ang nais nila ay katarungan,” he said. (It is very clear that the Laude family wants no settlement because they want justice.)

Malou Laude, sister of Jennifer, said they were being harassed with way the Pemberton’s camp maneuvered the proceedings.

“Para kaming hinaharas sa loob. Labing-apat silang mga Amerikano sa itaas, habang anim lang kaming mga Pilipino doon,” Laude complained. (It’s like we were being harassed. There were 14 Americans inside the courtroom and we were only 6 Filipinos inside.)

The arraignment was set after the Justice Department (DOJ) dismissed the accused’s Motion for Reconsideration for lack of merit.

Dozens of activists rallied outside the courthouse, calling for the speedy trial on Laude’s case.

“For the Jennifer Laude murder, this is a classic case of justice delayed is justice denied,” Akbayan said in a statement.

Akbayan noted that any further delay will against the pursuit of justice for the transgender sister Jennifer. They said that from the first day of trial, the 180-day period is fast consumed by the delay.

Pemberton's motion to let his lawyer Rowena Flores represent him during the trial – except during hearings that require his presence, like arraignment and the promulgation of decision or judgement – was granted by the court. The only other time he will appear in court during the trial of the case is when he needs to be identified by the witness. Rappler.com