OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines - Detained US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton returned to court for the third time on Friday to undergo a pretrial conference on the murder charge filed against him for the slaying of transgender woman Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude.
But at the onset, one of the primary concerns of Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde of the Olongapo Regional Trial Court Branch 74 was how the trial would refer to the gender of Laude, whose body was found in a motel bathroom on Oct. 11 last year.
Pemberton was charged after a witness identified him as the Caucasian who was with Laude before the body was found.
Virgie Suarez, lawyer of the Laude family, said the victim's transgender nature was a key element in the trial. When asked why, Suarez said Laude's death was the result of "gender-based violence."
"What else will [her gender] establish? That she was physically weaker than Pemberton; [and] that she had no military training except for [skills] in cutting hair and cleaning hand and toe nails," she said, replying to a text query from the Inquirer.
But Pemberton refused to acknowledge Laude as a transgender, a court document showed.
The court had asked if Laude should now be referred to as "Jeffrey Laude alias Jennifer" during the trial, Suarez informed reporters, who were prohibited from entering and covering the court proceedings.
The court said Laude could be treated as a male because of the victim's birth certificate, according to the lawyer.
Suarez said the gender question would need to be settled on March 10 when the pretrial session resumes.
Pemberton, who faces murder charges filed by the government on Dec. 15 last year, arrived at the Hall of Justice before dawn, escorted by American security men.
"We did not expect that Pemberton would be here [for the pretrial] but it's good that he was here. A plea bargain [agreement] was never discussed in court, though," Suarez told reporters after the court session.