Protesters hold candles during a vigil inside the campus of the state university in Manila on Oct. 24, 2014, to coincide with the burial of murdered transgender woman, Jennifer Laude.
Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty

U.S. Marine to face murder charge in death of transgender Filipino woman

Philippine prosecutors have recommended a U.S. Marine be charged with murder in the gruesome slaying of a transgender woman, The New York Times reported Monday.

The case now goes to a judge in that country who will decide the fate of Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, a Marine currently in joint Philippine-U.S. custody for the alleged killing of 26-year-old Jennifer Laude. If convicted of murder, Pemberton faces up to 40 years in prison.

According to a preliminary investigation that included closed-circuit television footage and statements from three fellow Marines, Pemberton, who was in the country for U.S. military exercises, met Laude at an Olongapo City nightclub in October. The two were later seen checking into a motel, where Laude was found on Oct. 11 partly undressed with her head in the toilet. Her neck had been broken.

Marine Lance Corporal Jairn Michael Rose told prosecutors that Pemberton, a skilled boxer, later confided that he had strangled Laude after discovering she was a transgender woman, the Associated Press reported. Pemberton allegedly said he choked her “for a couple of minutes” until she stopped moving, then dragged her into the bathroom.

Prosecutors recommended he be charged with murder instead of a lesser homicide offense because the alleged crime involved “aggravated treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty.”

“You can see the kind of cruelty she endured, the injuries she sustained,” Olongapo City Chief Prosecutor Emiline Delos Santos said, according to The New York Times. “We believe we have a strong case.”

Pemberton is currently being guarded by American and Filipino troops on a military base in Manila. He has yet to release a statement regarding the case.

The development comes at a sensitive time for U.S.-Philippines relations: The two countries recently signed an agreement allowing the construction of American military facilities in the Southeast Asian country — something that has not existed since 1992. The Philippine government said in a statement that it looks “forward to the full cooperation of the U.S. government in ensuring that justice is secured for Laude.”

U.S. Marine to face murder charge in death of transgender Filipino woman