A Philippine court on Monday entered a not guilty plea for a U.S. Marine accused of murdering a transgender prostitute in October.
The Associated Press reports the court entered the plea after Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton refused to enter his own plea during the brief court proceeding in the Philippine city of Olongapo.
Pemberton was detained aboard a U.S. Navy ship in October after authorities in Olongapo said he was suspected of murdering Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old prostitute whose former name was Jeffrey.
According to an October story from the New York Daily News, authorities found Laude’s body slumped over a toilet in a hotel room, showing signs of strangulation.
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A December AP story reported prosecutors believe 19-year-old Pemberton strangled Laude after taking her to the hotel and learning she was transgender.
Prosecutor Emilie de los Santos said at the time she had enough probable cause to move ahead with the prosecution.
“It's murder,” she said after filing the charge with the regional court. “It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty.”
De los Santos said she believed Pemberton picked up Laude on Oct. 11 during a night out with friends. Among evidence the prosecutor said she had was testimony taken from interviews with Pemberton's Marine colleagues, including Marine Lance Corporal Jairn Michael Rose.
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Rose reportedly told authorities that Pemberton confided in him after returning to their ship that night.
"I think I killed a he/she,” Pemberton was said to have told Rose.
Pemberton allegedly admitted to strangling Laude “for a couple of minutes” until she stopped moving, then dragged her to the nearby bathroom.
Monday’s plea, entered by the court, paves the way for Pemberton’s murder trial to begin.
“Finally justice can be attained for our sibling,” Laude’s sister, Marilou Laude, told reporters Monday after the hearing.
Photo Credit: Facebook: Jennifer Laude, Joseph Scott Pemberton