After Duterte pardon, American soldier Pemberton flies back to the US

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 13 2020 09:40 AM | Updated as of Sep 13 2020 01:19 PM

US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was found guilty of homicide for the death of Jennifer Laude, was deported to the US Sunday morning following President Rodrigo Duterte's grant of absolute pardon. Bureau of Immigration/Handout

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) --A US Marine convicted in the 2014 killing of a Filipino transgender woman departed the Philippines Sunday morning after he was pardoned by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 25, who was found guilty of homicide for the death of Jennifer Laude, was freed after spending nearly 6 years in prison.

"Pemberton has successfully been deported," Dana Sandoval, spokesperson of the Philippines' Bureau of Immigration, told ABS-CBN News. The US embassy in Manila also confirmed the departure.

Sandoval said the "military plane" carrying Pemberton "left at exactly 9:14 this morning" from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Pemberton seemed "relaxed" as he was deported, Sandoval told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.

"Surprisingly, wala naman pong naging aberya. Very smooth naman po ang deportation. He was very calm and relaxed," she said.

US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 25, leaves his detention facility in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City as he prepares for his deportation Sunday morning from the Philippines. Pemberton was convicted in 2015 for killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City, and was pardoned on Sept. 7 by President Rodrigo Duterte. Handout photo from the Bureau of Immigration. ABS-CBN News

The US Marine is blacklisted and considered as an "undesirable alien" in the Philippines, Sandoval said. 

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"May he find peace of mind. Hoping he has learned from all these -the value of life and dignity, regardless of gender and nationality," said Atty. Virgie Suarez, lawyer of Laude's family.

Pemberton's counsel, Rowena Garcia-Flores, said he "extends his most sincere sympathy for the pain he caused" to Laude's family.

"In the years he spent in confinement, he spent much time contemplating the many errors in his ways regarding the night of October 11, 2014. He wishes he had the words to express the depth of his sorrow and regret," she said.

Pemberton also "wishes to express his deepest gratitude to President Duterte" for granting him absolute pardon, Garcia-Flores said.

"He is extremely grateful for this act of compassion," she said.

In its first statement since a local court authorized on Sept. 1 the early release of Pemberton that preceded his getting pardoned by Duterte, the US embassy said the convicted killer "fulfilled his sentence as ordered by Philippine courts."

Duterte granted the American serviceman executive clemency on Sept. 7, saying Pemberton should have been presumed to have exhibited good moral character while imprisoned.

US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton boards a military plane at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Bureau of Immigration/Handout

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Pemberton served his sentence in a US-guarded facility at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military headquarters in Quezon City.

He had been held there, not at the state penitentiary, as provided by the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a military pact that sets out rules for American soldiers to operate in the country.

Under the treaty, the US government holds custody of its servicemen accused of crime in the Philippines.

The President's decision came days after an Olongapo City court ruled that Pemberton was eligible for early release under a law that shortens jail time for good conduct.

The Laude family questioned Pemberton's early release, arguing there was no proof of the American serviceman's good behavior and participation in rehabilitation activities since he was in solitary confinement.

The grant of absolute pardon to Pemberton stirred up protests and criticism on social media, with members of the LGBT community and counsel of the Laude family saying that Duterte had bargained the Filipinos' sovereignty to the US.

During the trial, Pemberton, then 20, said he met Laude, 26, at a disco bar while on shore leave in Olongapo City in October 2014.

They later checked into a motel where Pemberton admitted to choking Laude after he discovered the victim was transgender.

Laude was later found by the motel staff wrapped in a bed sheet, with her head slumped in the toilet bowl.

- with reports from Michael Delizo and Angel Movido, ABS-CBN News