Pemberton no-show again in Olongapo probe
OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines—The American soldier facing a murder complaint for the death of transgender Filipino Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude again failed to appear and submit a statement at his preliminary investigation on Monday, prompting the chief prosecutor to proceed with the investigation without a challenge to the evidence presented against him.
The lawyer for US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, however, brought a motion to “declare the absence of probable cause for murder or any other crime” against him.
“If prosecutors elevate the case to court, Pemberton asked that the murder charge be reduced to homicide considering the lack of circumstances qualifying the offense to murder,” said his lawyer, Rowena Flores.
Murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the maximum penalty for homicide is 20 years.
Chief Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos rejected Pemberton’s plea.
“We will rule on probable cause after we complete the process. Don’t teach us what to do,” De los Santos told Flores.
“The bottom line is we will go on with the preliminary investigation,” De los Santos said.
Pemberton was identified by witnesses as the companion of Laude when they checked into Celzone Lodge here on the night of Oct. 11. Laude was found dead in a bathroom of a room in the motel shortly after the suspect left, police said.
Prosecutors will inspect Ambyanz Disco, where Pemberton and Laude met, and Celzone Lodge on Nov. 5.
De los Santos said the prosecution panel needed to complete the gathering of evidence before deciding if the complaint should be filed in court.
“We will rule on probable cause after completing the process of getting all the available evidence that we can get from the complainants because you have waived your right to submit your counteraffidavit. You have not presented any evidence on your behalf,” she told Flores.
A representative of the US government, US Navy Commodore Timothy Stone, assured De los Santos that Pemberton remained in a detention cell jointly managed by the Philippine and American governments at the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Stone also informed De los Santos that the US Navy’s Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is conducting an independent investigation of the killing, after Harry Roque, a lawyer for the Laude family, informed the prosecutor of his request to see the NCIS report.
Roque has been seeking permission to get Pemberton’s DNA samples and fingerprints to aid the family’s case.
Stone, however, told the panel that the NCIS was “still compiling evidence.” He said “the NCIS report would be made available to the Philippine government” as part of the US commitment to cooperate with Filipino law enforcers.
When De los Santos asked when the report would be available, Stone replied: “It’s coming, I hope.”
De los Santos said the parallel investigation was typical of cases involving the US military, which needs to process and document their own evidence when dealing with offenders.
“They have their own proceedings [so] they have to get their own evidence,” she said.
Daniel Smith case
Citing the manner by which the 2005 Subic rape case involving another American soldier, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, proceeded, De los Santos said the prosecution panel did not require the NCIS report during the preliminary investigation.
“Going back to [our] experience [with the Smith case] we used [the NCIS report in the] trial, not [in the] preliminary investigation,” she said.
“For purposes of [determining] probable cause, we will rely on the findings of our local law enforcers,” she said.
De los Santos also assured Laude’s mother, Julita, that she will have the chance to see Pemberton in due time.
“The time will come, Mother. You will see him,” said De los Santos, stressing that procedures must be followed and that the prosecution had an airtight case.
The Laudes have asked AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang to allow them to see Pemberton, telling him in a letter that other than reports in the press, they have no clear proof that the US Marine is indeed detained at the Joint US Military Assistance Group compound in Camp Aguinaldo.
The letter was written for the family by lawyers Romel Bagares and Ethel Avisado, who cited the “applicable principles of international human rights law” in the Laudes’ request to see Pemberton.
They said the principles included “access to the status and disposition of the case in question as well as to the state’s obligation to treat the victims or their family and loved ones with humanity and respect for their dignity.”
‘Mr. President, help’
After Monday’s hearing, Julita Laude talked with reporters and again sought help from President Aquino to see Pemberton.
“Mr. President, you told us that we poor Filipinos are your bosses and you are walking on a straight path. But where are those promises?” she said.
Also present during the hearing was Marc Sueselbeck, Laude’s German boyfriend, and Laude’s sisters Marilou and Michelle.
Sueselbeck was on his way back to Germany on Sunday night when immigration agents stopped him from boarding his plane due to a complaint from the AFP that sought his declaration as an “undesirable alien.”–With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and AFP
Subscribe to our global nation newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.