The possibility of a plea bargain for Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the 19-year-old U.S. Marine charged with the October murder of Filipina trans woman Jennifer Laude, was raised by a Philippine court Tuesday, reports Filipino news site All Pinoy News.
Lawyers for both the prosecution and defense were summoned by the court to a pre-trial hearing to discuss the possibilty of the bargain, which would allow Pemberton to avoid a murder trial. Pemberton currently faces a 40-year prison sentence if convicted of murder.
The case revolves around the fatal October 11 strangling of Laude in an Olangapo City hotel room, while Pemberton was stationed in the Philippines for military exercises. Pemberton was allegedly captured on surveillance camera entering the building with Laude, and leaving shortly therafter alone. Pemberton was quickly arrested and detained by American forces, stirring international debate on the expanded presence of U.S. forces in the Philippines under the Obama administration's still-intact Visiting Forces Agreement. In late October, Pemberton was turned over to Philippine custody, and is currently being held in a Manila prison, guarded by U.S. soldiers.
After Tuesday's hearing, the Laude family's lawyer, Henry Roque, made it clear to the press that Pemberton's treatment will send a message to the world about U.S.-Philippine relations. As for the case's personal side, he told APN that while his team must consider the plea bargain, the Laude family is resolute on one term: Pemberton will serve jail time.
"We are in the process of studying the possibility of having a plea bargain, but the position of the Laude family has not wavered -- we want justice for Jennifer and the whole Filipino nation," Roque explained. "The Laude family does not agree to any situation wherein the accused will not be punished by incarceration. He has to be punished to serve as a warning to others that, when they are in our territory, they have to abide by the laws of the independent Philippines."
The terms of a plea bargain have not been released publicly, but Olangapo chief prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos told Agence-France Presse that Pemberton could be ordered to pay damages and serve less jail time. In order for such a bargain to be struck, both sides would have to agree on the terms -- a position that was not reached after Tuesday's' negotiations.
Pemberton himself tried and failed in January to have his sentence reduced from "murder" to "homicide" -- a lesser charge that would see him serving 20 years if convicted -- after being granted a 60-day trial suspension to review his charges in December.
If the prosecution and defense fail to agree on a plea bargain, Pemberton's murder trial will proceed as planned on March 23.