Filipino family wants new prosecutor in US marine case

U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, third left, the suspect in the Oct.11, 2014 killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude at the former U.S. naval base of Subic, northwest of Manila, is escorted into the courtroom for his scheduled trial Monday, March 23, 2015 at Olongapo city, Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines. Pemberton was tagged as the suspect in the killing which the protesters termed as a "hate crime" against LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Filipinos. (AP Photo/Jun Dumaguing)

By Roy Ramos

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines

The family of a transgender Filipino allegedly killed by a U.S. marine has rejected a settlement and requested that another public prosecutor be assigned to the trial, local media reported Tuesday.

The mother and sister of Jeffrey Laude, known as Jennifer, have submitted a two-page letter to the Department of Justice saying that Olongapo City Prosecutor Emelie de los Santos was uncooperative with their private lawyers, according to the Philippines Star.

The complaint comes after the trial of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, 20, kicked off Monday, with U.S. security personnel escorting the handcuffed marine into a tightly guarded courtroom in Olongapo city following the reported collapse of a plea bargain negotiation with Laude’s family.

Pemberton is suspected of killing Laude, 26, in a cheap motel in northern Olongapo City on Oct. 11 last year.

He is charged with murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, and the court entered a not guilty plea for him last month after he refused to enter a plea.

Laude’s mother Julita said that even a $1 million settlement “would not be enough” for the family to agree to a lesser charge of homicide, as they wish to see the man who they hold responsible for the killing behind bars.

“What we are fighting for is murder, not to downgrade the case. What they did to my child was gruesome,” she told reporters. “Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we can’t fight for justice.”

The family’s lawyer Harry Roque told the Star that de los Santos had barred him from attending a case conference March 18 and had been pushing for the 21 million Philippine peso ($474,000) settlement.

He said, “she [de los Santos] would allow Pemberton to plead guilty to the lesser offense of homicide but the civil aspect of the case will proceed.”

According to de los Santos, the prosecutor’s office did not allow Roque’s team to join the March 18 meeting out of concerns that “whatever they hear during the case conference, they may divulge our strategy.”

Explaining that the matter was not one of trust, but of controlling and supervising the criminal proceedings, she stressed that the task at hand involved winning the case for the people of the Philippines — not just for the Laude family.

She said that Roque could only represent the Laude family in determining how much the defense should pay for the civil aspect of the case, and that the victim’s relatives could not serve as witnesses in the criminal case as they were not at the crime scene.

While expressing respect for Roque’s move to seek the intervention of the Department of Justice, she branded it as a desire to “penetrate” the public prosecutor’s team and said she would abide by the department’s decision.

The case has heightened tension between the Philippines and the U.S., with Pemberton’s incarceration in a U.S.-run facility raising complaints that the U.S. is scorning Philippine sovereignty under the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows the U.S. to retain custody of accused personnel during judicial proceedings.

The U.S. has maintained a heavy military presence in the Philippines since its former colony gained independence in 1946. The number of troops is expected to increase as U.S. President Barack Obama attempts to counter China’s influence in the region.

(c) 2015 Andolu Ajansi Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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