Court affirms Pemberton's conviction but reduces sentence to up to 10 years

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The Olongapo RTC Branch 74 denied Pemberton's motion to have his conviction reversed.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A regional trial court (RTC) in Olongapo City affirms the conviction of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton for the killing of Filipino transgender woman, Jennifer Laude.

In a ruling dated Tuesday (March 29) the Olongapo RTC Branch 74 denied Pemberton's motion to have his conviction reversed. However, it reduced the maximum sentence to 10 years from 12. The court also denied him bail.

The court said state prosecutors presented enough evidence to show no other person, except Pemberton, could have killed Laude.

It especially gives weight to eye witness testimony that Pemberton was the last person seen with the victim before she was found dead.

On December 1 last year, the court found Pemberton guilty of homicide and was sentenced to 6 up to 12 years in prison.

Pemberton filed an appeal, insisting he should be acquitted.

He argued that the court failed to appreciate evidence showing another person killed Laude after Pemberton had left her in the motel room where they were staying.

In his motion for reconsideration, Pemberton also asked the court to clarify his sentence.

His lawyers said the maximum sentence should only be ten years considering the mitigating circumstances in their client's case.

In its 2015 ruling, the court noted two mitigating circumstances — first, passion and obfuscation, and second, intoxication.

Acting on passion and obfuscation essentially means that the crime was conducted out of impulse or rage and was not necessarily premeditated. In its guilty verdict last December, the court noted that Pemberton was "in the heat of passion" before he arm-locked Laude. The marine neither had full control of his faculties because he was drunk.

CNN Philippines' "New Day" host Atty. Karen Jimeno explained on Monday (April 4) that the reduction of the sentence is within the power of the court.

"In this case, Pemberton's lawyers can still appeal to the Court of Appeals if there were errors in the appreciation of law and the appreciation of facts."

Based on these mitigating circumstances, the court lowered the maximum sentence to ten years.

The decision says, Pemberton shall “suffer an indeterminate sentence of six (6) years of prision correccional as indeterminate minimum penalty and ten (10) years of prision mayor as indeterminate maximum penalty with full credit for the period of his preventive imprisonment pursuant to Article 29, Revised Penal Code."

The court also said that since he has already been convicted, Pemberton can no longer be presumed innocent. This removes his right to bail.

“Wherefore in view of the foregoing, the Partial Motion for Reconsideration of the decision promulgated on 01 December 2015 and the Motion to be Admitted to Bail pending motion for reconsideration are DENIED for lack of merit,” the court’s decision reads.

Pemberton and Laude rented a room at the Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City after a night of drinking on October 11, 2014.

Laude's dead body was discovered resting on the toilet bowl of the motel room that night.

Also read: Laude family runs to DOJ, SC to question Pemberton detention

Laude’s camp, pleased but not too happy

Laude family’s counsel, Atty. Harry Roque, in an interview with CNN Philippines said that their camp is “very pleased” that Pemberton’s conviction was affirmed by the Olongapo RTC.

“This is already justice for the family,” Roque said.

But Roque also said the family was not too happy that Pemberton’s penalty was reduced.

“We’re not too happy that the penalty was lightened by two years. Nonetheless, because the penalty is still 6 years to 10 years, Pemberton is sure to spend time in jail. Because under the rules on probational parole, only those convicts with penalties that would exceed six years and one day are qualified for early release on parole. So in that sense, we feel that justice is due to our client.”

With Pemberton’s lighter penalty, Roque also called on the policy makers to review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“I said we’re not too happy… we will use the light penalty to convince the entire nation that it’s high time to review and abrogate this Visiting Forces Agreement.”

Roque pointed out, the court’s decision is a vindication of their arguments that Pemberton is an undesirable alien and a threat to national security.

Roque also added, the Laude family will make sure that Pemberton would remain behind bars for the entire duration of the penalty imposed on him.

CNN Philippines' JC Gotinga and Fiona Nicolas contributed to this report.