MANILA, Philippines – A U.S. Marine convicted of the murder of a Filipino transgender woman was deported Sunday after a presidential pardon reduced his jail in a case that reignited outrage at the U.S. military presence in the Philippines.
Private First Officer Joseph Scott Pemberton said in a farewell message that he was “extremely grateful” to President Rodrigo Duterte and expressed his “sincere compassion” to the family of Jennifer Laude, whom he murdered in 2014 at a motel in northwest Manila upon learning that she was a transgender woman.
Pemberton said that during his five-year seclusion he spent “a lot of time reflecting on all the mistakes” he made the night Laude died.
“He wishes he had the words to express the deep sorrow and regret he feels,” according to the marine’s message that was issued by his attorney, Rowena Garcia-Flores.
Philippine immigration agents and US security personnel escorted the 25-year-old Marine, who was in handcuffs and wearing a mask, from his cell at the main military camp in the Manila metropolitan area to the airport, where he boarded a military plane. Before boarding, he was tested for coronavirus, which came back negative, immigration spokeswoman Dana Sandoval told The Associated Press.
“He has been successfully deported,” Sandoval said.
The 22-year-old girl was allegedly killed by one of her friends, whose whereabouts are now unknown.
On Monday, Duterte granted Pemberton an “absolute and unconditional pardon”, a decision that took everyone by surprise. The Philippine president has long been openly critical of US security policies and strengthened ties with China and Russia.
The pardon granted by Duterte was condemned by left-wing groups and in defense of LGBTQ rights.
The case sparked a debate on whether the marine, whose arrest was under the Visiting Forces Agreement between allied countries, could benefit from a Philippine law that grants reduced sentences to ordinary prisoners for good behavior.
The magistrates indicated that there were “significant” errors in the selection of the jury.
The regional court in the city of Olongapo, which heard Pemberton’s case, ruled that Pemberton can benefit from that law and ordered authorities on September 1 to release him for good behavior. But Laude’s family and the Justice Department filed separate appeals, preventing his premature release from a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The American had served about half of his sentence.
Duterte argued that he granted the pardon because Pemberton was not treated fairly after his early release was blocked to which, the president argued, the marine would be entitled.
Pemberton, an anti-tank missile operator from New Bedford, Massachusetts, was one of thousands of elements from the US and Philippine forces who participated in joint exercises in the country in 2014.
He and other US Marines received leave after the exercises and met Laude and his friends at a bar in Olongapo, a city famous for its nightlife on the outskirts of Subic Bay, a former base of the United States Navy. United.
Laude was later found lifeless, her head submerged in a motel room toilet, which, according to witnesses, she had arrived with Pemberton. One of the witnesses told investigators that Pemberton revealed that he suffocated Laude after learning she was a transgender woman.