The U.S. Marine charged in the murder of a transgender Filipina woman has been transferred to a Philippine military base, after weeks of demonstrations protesting continued American custody of the top suspect in a crime committed on Philippine soil.
U.S. Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton has been transferred from a U.S. naval vessel to an "air-conditioned trailer" within the confines of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Camp Aguinaldo military headquarters in Quezon City, reports The Wall Street Journal. Pemberton, 19, is the main suspect in the murder of 26-year-old Jennifer Laude.
In the early hours of October 11, witnesses say Pemberton left a hotel in Olongapo City alone just 30 minutes after checking in with Laude. Later that day, Laude was found strangled to death in the hotel room, reportedly with her head in a toilet. Olongapo City is near Subic Bay, which hosts U.S. Navy ships in port.
Filipino, Filipino-American, and U.S. activists have for weeks demanded Pemberton to be transferred to the custody of Filipino authorities, after U.S. military leaders initially announced the suspect would be held on a U.S. naval ship docked in the Philippines.
The issue of Pemberton's custody had imperiled a sweeping Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the U.S., which is a centerpiece of President Barack Obama and the Pentagon's new Pacific-leaning global military stance — intended as a counterweight to China's growing strength in the region, according to the Journal.
"I think that's a very healthy development," Philippines President Benigno Aquino III told The Wall Street Journal of Pemberton's transfer to his country's military headquarters. "Previously, in the Daniel Smith case, he was in the U.S. Embassy not in our facility. ... Now, [Pemberton] is in our camp. I think [American forces] are responding to our needs and our sensitivities."
Technically, Pemberton is being held in a hybrid of American and Philippine custody, with U.S. troops guarding the trailer in which the accused Marine is being housed, while domestic law enforcement continues its investigation. Meanwhile, the trailer itself is enclosed by a fence within a fence that surrounds the Philippines military base. The base itself is guarded by Filipino troops.
Pemberton will remain "in the Philippines during the investigation and any potential judicial proceedings" under the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement, said a statement issued by the U.S. Marine Corps.
Philippines police and the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated the crime scene where Laude was found earlier this month by a hotel worker with her head in a toilet bowl. Time reports that an autopsy found the cause of death was "asphyxia by drowning." Time also reports that two used condoms were found in the room, and that friends of Laude, also transgender women, believed that Pemberton was unaware that the victim was transgender when the two agreed to check into the hotel together.
The brutality of Laude's murder has outraged Filipinos and compelled many to demand the ouster of U.S. forces from the archipelago Pacific nation. While some may angst be quelled Pemberton's transfer from the amphibious assault ship, USS Peleliu, to a Phillippines military base, not everyone is as satisfied by the move as President Auqino.
The murdered woman's fiance, German national Marc Sueselbeck, was himself arrested after jumping the fence at Camp Aguinaldo — apparently aiming to exact revenge upon Laude's accused murderer, reports GMA News, a Phillipines-based news site for Filipinos living abroad. See photos of the demonstrations, including Sueselbeck and Laude's sister jumping the fence at Camp Aguinaldo, below.