A U.S. Marine convicted of the murder of a Filipino transgender woman was deported Sunday after a presidential pardon canceled his detention in a case that reignited outrage over a pact over the American military presence in the Philippines.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton left a message for President Rodrigo Duterte and the family of Jennifer Laude, whom he convicted of murder in 2014 after finding out she was a transgender woman in a motel northwest of Manila. The contents of the message will be released after his departure, said his lawyer Rowena Garcia-Flores.
Filipino immigration officials and American security personnel escorted the 25-year-old marine from his cell in the main military camp in the metropolis of Manila to the airport, where he boarded a military plane. Before the flight, he underwent a coronavirus test that turned negative, immigration spokeswoman Dana Sandoval told The Associated Press.
"He was successfully deported," said Sandoval.
On Monday, Duterte Pemberton granted an "absolute and unconditional pardon," which surprised many. The Filipino leader has long been a vocal critic of US security policy while addressing China and Russia.
Duterte's pardon has been condemned by leftist and LGBTQ groups.
The debate has been brewing as to whether the Navy, whose detention was governed by the Allies' Visiting Forces Agreement, can be covered by a Philippine law granting ordinary prisoners shorter sentences for good behavior.
The regional court in Olongapo city handling Pemberton's case ruled that the law covers Pemberton and ordered authorities on September 1 to release him early for good conduct. However, the von Laude family and the Justice Department separately appealed and blocked his early release from a maximum sentence of up to 10 years. He served about half of it.
Duterte said he granted the pardon because Pemberton was not treated fairly after his early release, which the Navy may have deserved, was blocked.
The court order sparked the perception that US military personnel who violate Filipino law can receive special treatment under the Visiting Forces Agreement [VFA], which provides the legal requirements for temporary visits by US forces in the country for large-scale combat exercises.
Pemberton, an anti-tank missile operator from New Bedford, Massachusetts, was one of thousands of American and Filipino military personnel who participated in joint exercises in the country in 2014.
He and several other Marines were on vacation after the drills and met Laude and her friends at a bar in Olongapo, a town known for its nightlife outside of Subic Bay, a former US Navy base.
Laude was later found dead with her head sagging in a toilet bowl in a motel room where witnesses said she and Pemberton had checked in. A witness told investigators that Pemberton said he suffocated Laude after finding out she was transgender.
In December 2015, a judge convicted Pemberton of murder, not the more serious murder charges filed by the Filipino prosecutor. The judge said at the time that factors such as cruelty and treason had not been proven.
The VFA could have been overturned last month if Duterte had not delayed an earlier decision to end the pact after President Donald Trump expressed his willingness to help the Philippines deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Filipino leader has said his country could survive without America.
If the VFA had been scrapped, it would have removed a legal basis for Pemberton's incarceration in the military camp and put pressure on him to be taken to one of the country's notoriously overcrowded and risky prisons for common criminals.