US Marine fought but did not murder Philippine transgender: Lawyer

OLONGAPO, Philippines - A US Marine accused of murder told a Philippine court Monday he fought with and subdued a transgender Filipina in self-defence but denied murdering her, his lawyer said.

Eight months after he was charged over the death of Jennifer Laude, Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted they fought after oral sex because Laude did not have a female organ, said his lawyer Rowena Flores.

The trial is closed to the press and court officials do not comment on details.

The case has attracted national attention as the Philippines seeks closer defence ties with its longtime ally the United States, in the face of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Pemberton, who was 22 at the time, said Laude, 26, slapped him and caused him to respond "in defence", Flores said.

"After some time, to subdue Jeffrey, Joseph Scott Pemberton held his (Laude's) head under his armpit. Jeffrey stopped moving. Joseph Scott Pemberton tried to revive him," Flores added, using the victim's former name of Jeffrey.

She quoted Pemberton as saying "I felt like I was raped by Laude." Harry Roque, a lawyer representing the victim's family at the trial, said the US marine testified he held Laude in an "armlock" until she stopped moving.

"He then dragged her to (the) bathroom and dumped her," Roque added.

Another lawyer for the family, Virgie Suarez, said Pemberton confessed to choking Laude but said he thought she was just unconscious.

Flores said Pemberton told the court he left Laude "alive in the bathroom".

Government prosecutors confirmed Pemberton testified but did not comment further.

Earlier they said Pemberton and Laude had left a bar in the northern port of Olongapo and checked in at a nearby motel, where they alleged the American strangled the victim.

Pemberton, who had just taken part in joint US-Philippine military exercises nearby when the alleged murder occurred, was taken to the Olongapo trial court Monday by armed escort from his cell at a Philippine military camp in Manila.

He was the second witness for the defence.

His mother Lisa Pemberton took the stand a week ago, when lawyers said she identified letters from family friends and relatives attesting to his good character.

The judicial proceedings will continue until December.