U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted in a Philippine court Monday that he strangled transgender woman Jennifer Laude to death inside a motel room near Manila last October, Al Jazeera reports.
Reports from inside the courtroom indicate that Pemberton is advancing a "trans panic" defense, claiming that upon discovering the 26-year-old Laude to be a transgender woman, the 19-year-old Marine "feared he would be raped," according to Al Jazeera. That fear prompted Pemberton to fly into a violent rage, manually strangling Laude before dragging her lifeless body into the bathroom, according to tweets from Harry Roque, the attorney representing Laude's family.
News of Laude's death — and the subsequent arrest of U.S. service member Pemberton — brought renewed scrutiny to the Obama administration's Visiting Forces Agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines, as Pemberton was stationed near Manila for joint training exercises with the U.S. Marines and Filipino forces.
Surveillance video at the hotel were Laude's body was found in Olongapo City showed Pemberton leaving the premesis alone just 30 minutes after checking in with Laude. Olongapo City is near Subic Bay, which hosts U.S. Navy ships in port.
After substantial debate and controversy about where to house the accused, Pemberton — who faces a 40-year-sentence if convicted of murder — is being held in a Philippine jail in Manila, where he is guarded by U.S. troops. In January, attorneys for the Marine attempted to have his charge reduced from "murder" to "homicide," a less serious offense which has a maximum sentence of 20 years. That effort was unsuccessful, and in March, reports emerged that Pemberton was considering a plea deal with Filipino prosecutors. However, the Laude family was hesitant to agree to any such arrangement, and at press time, Pemberton still faces murder charges.