A court in the Philippines ruled this morning that Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, a U.S. Marine, killed transgender woman Jennifer Laude after meeting her at a bar and taking her back to a hotel in October last year.
The court found Pemberton guilty of homicide and sentenced him to six to 12 years in prison, The Associated Press reports, a lesser charge than murder because the judge said cruelty and treachery had not been proven.
Pemberton was found to have first strangled Laude and then drowned her by holding her head underwater in a toilet bowl. He testified that he attacked Laude after he found out she was transgender, but said she was still alive when he left her at the hotel room, about half an hour after they checked in. Laude's family's lawyers say she was already dead when Pemberton left.
Laude's mother and sister say that while they're relieved the details of how Jennifer died have been brought to light, Pemberton should have been charged with murder. "This is not quite a victory," Malou, Laude's sister, told Reuters. "We expected a murder conviction but instead got homicide. We are not contented with the decision."
The case has led to protests against the U.S. military presence in the country, which is a former American colony. In April last year, the two nations signed an agreement which allows the U.S. to expand its military presence in the Philippines over the next 10 years. The question of how to deal with American military personnel that break the law while they're based in the Philippines has been an ongoing source of contention. Pemberton was on leave after being posted to the Philippines for joint military exercises. Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, signed in 1998, American troops accused of crimes must be tried in a Filipino court–but the U.S. has custody over them, at least until sentencing. In 2009, The Associated Press reports, the Philippines Supreme Court ruled that U.S. forces convicted of crimes must serve their time in prisons in the Philippines.
It seems likely that Pemberton's lawyers will appeal the decision. "We believe that Pemberton will be acquitted eventually," one of his lawyers, Rowena Garcia Flores told Reuters. "If not by the regional trial court, then by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court."