MANILA – The Philippine Court of Appeals has upheld a guilty verdict on a U.S. Marine for killing a transgender woman nearly three years ago, a case that stirred debate over the U.S. military presence in its former colony.
A lower court had found Lance Corp. Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty of killing Jennifer Laude in a hotel in Olongapo, outside a former U.S. Navy base northwest of the capital, in 2014.
He was jailed for between six and 10 years on a Philippine military base.
Pemberton had admitted choking but not killing Laude after he discovered that a man was giving him oral sex, not a woman. He had been charged with murder but was convicted of the lesser offense of homicide, which does not require malicious intent.
In a ruling dated April 3, but only made public Monday, the Court of Appeals denied Pemberton’s appeal due to “lack of merit.”
It also raised the compensation he must pay Laude’s family to 150,000 pesos ($3,000) from 80,000 pesos.
The killing stoked anger over the presence of U.S. soldiers on Philippine soil after senators voted two decades ago to shut U.S. bases because of social issues, including crimes committed by servicemen.
The two countries are close military allies and the United States has for years led dozens of joint training exercises in the Philippines.
But the relationship has soured under President Rodrigo Duterte, who says the U.S. military presence makes his country a target for conflict, especially if tensions escalate between the United States and China in the South China Sea.
Duterte announced a “separation” from the United States in October, declaring he had realigned with China as the two agreed to resolve their South China Sea dispute through talks.
He has threatened repeatedly to scrap a series of defense pacts with the United States but has taken no concrete steps to do so, and Philippine defense officials frequently reaffirm the strength of the relationship.
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