Pemberton's conviction: 'Incomplete victory' for Laude family

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The conviction of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton over the death of Jennifer Laude is an "incomplete victory" for the family of the 26-year-old transgender woman killed in Olongapo City last year.

On Tuesday, December 1, an Olongapo court found Pemberton guilty of homicide in Laude's death, sentencing him to 6 to 12 years imprisonment and ordering him to pay more than P4 million ($84,862) in damages.

But Laude's family said they did not expect the court's ruling, arguing that the US Marine should have been found guilty of murder, not homicide. 

"The fight is not totally over. We are not content with the verdict. We wanted him to be convicted of murder," Marilou Laude said in a press briefing after the promulgation of the verdict.

The family's lawyers – Harry Roque and Virgie Suarez – also called the ruling a "bitter victory."

The family also called for the immediate detention of Pemberton at the New Bilibid Prison, in accordance with the original court order. A late appeal by Pemberton's lawyers, however, will mean the US Marine will return to Camp Aguinaldo pending a review of provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

Asked for his reaction, Laude's German fiancé, Marc Sueselbeck, told Rappler in an email that Pemberton seemed to have gotten away with the crime.

"What guilty verdict?" he wrote.

"His crime was pure murder. No homicide. No accident. So he gets away with it. And I guarantee you, he won't serve time in Philippine jail....He will be deported right away," Sueselbeck added.

Laude's fiancé also said that the verdict was "exactly what [he] expected."

"It was foreseeable and planned [for a] long time as it was the desired result for every involved party but the Laudes," he said.

The court found Pemberton guilty of homicide, not murder, saying that the prosecution failed to establish qualifying circumstances such as treachery and abuse of superior strength. 

But for Sueselbeck, Laude's death was a clear case of murder. The court's ruling of homicide, he said, made it seem that Laude's death was her own fault.

"How can you talk about victory if a murderer is not convicted as that and his [actions] are excused as understandable?" he said.

Sueselbeck added: "Justice would be [when] a victim is treated as one, and a suspect has to face the consequences of his [actions]. Justice can't be finding lame and embarrassing, lazy excuses for his [actions] and putting the blame on the victim. That is the old method of blaming a rape victim for being responsible and guilty just for wearing too short a skirt."

In October 2014, the 26-year-old Laude was found dead in the bathroom of a hotel with her neck leaning against the toilet bowl. 

Autopsy reports later said that she died by asphyxiation due to drowning and strangulation.

The US serviceman was the last person seen checking in at the motel with Laude, according to witnesses.

Pemberton had met Laude at a nearby bar while he was out spending the night with fellow servicemen from the USS Peleliu.