Asia

US marine charged with murder in Philippines transgender death

Supporters of slain transgender Filipino Jennifer Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, hold placards during a rally outside a courthouse in Olongapo city, north of Manila December 15, 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A small group of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Olongapo

Prosecutors in the Philippines have charged a US marine with murder in connection with the death of a Filipina transgender woman.

Pte First Class Joseph Pemberton is suspected of killing Jennifer Laude, who was found dead in a hotel bathroom in the port city of Olongapo.

Pte Pemberton cannot be granted bail and could be facing 40 years in jail.

The case has sparked anti-American sentiment in the Philippines, a close political and military ally of the US.

State prosecutor Emily de los Santos said there was "probable cause" that Pte Pemberton killed 26-year-old Jennifer Laude, formerly known as Jeffrey.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Jennifer was previously known as Jeffrey
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pte Pemberton was moved from a US ship to a Philippines military facility but is still in American custody

"It's murder,'" said Ms de los Santos to reporters after filing the charge against Pte Pemberton. "It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty."

'Strangled'

Pte Pemberton was on leave in Olongapo on 11 October after joint military exercises with the Philippine army when he met Ms Laude in a bar.

Police say they left together and checked into a hotel, where she was found dead the next day, apparently strangled and with her head inside the hotel toilet.

The incident sparked a debate over custody of American military personnel accused of crimes after Pte Pemberton was kept in US custody.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, the US can retain custody of its military personnel wanted for crimes in the country.

Critics say the arrangement damages Philippine sovereignty and does not benefit the country.

The death of Ms Laude sparked renewed anti-US protests at court hearings, with protesters calling on the Philippines to drop the VFA.

Pte Pemberton was later moved to a Philippine military camp in Manila where he remains in American custody but with Filipino guards.

Earlier this year, the US signed a 10-year deal with the Philippines allowing for a bigger US military presence in the country and better US access to military bases, ports and airfields.

The deal came as the relationship between the Philippines and China worsened because of their disputes over maritime territories.

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