By Agence France-Presse
OLONGAPO CITY – Four US Marines took the witness stand Tuesday at the murder trial of their comrade accused of killing a local transgender woman in the Philippines, lawyers who attended the closed-door proceedings said.
The American servicemen were asked to testify on what the defendant, Private First Class Joseph Pemberton, had told them shortly after the October 24, 2014 killing, the lawyers said.
“I think I may have killed a he or she,” Lance Corporal Michael Rose told the court when asked what Pemberton had said to him on the night the body was found, according to Virgie Suarez, a lawyer for the family of the victim, who was at the hearing.
Defence lawyer Benjamin Tolosa confirmed after the hearing that “some admissions were made”, but declined to elaborate.
The victim Jennifer Laude, who was also known as Jeffrey, was found naked with strangle marks on her neck in a cheap motel room in the northern port of Olongapo, according to a Filipino police autopsy report.
Pemberton, who had just finished taking part in a joint training exercise between the US and the Philippines near Olongapo, checked into the motel with Laude shortly after meeting her at a bar, prosecutors said.
Suarez said the court was told Pemberton spoke to Rose about the incident when he returned to their ship quarters.
Rose along with two of three other marines who testified Tuesday had been with the defendant at the bar before he checked into the hotel with the victim, Suarez said.
He added that the fourth marine who took the stand was a non-commissioned officer who was the immediate superior of Pemberton and the other marines.
The victim’s sister Marilou Laude said that she was satisfied with the outcome of the day’s hearings.
“Even though they are friends, they are only telling the truth. I appreciate that very much,” she said.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has courted a greater US presence in the Philippines in an effort to counter perceived rising Chinese aggression in a long-running territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
However activist groups have used the killing of Laude to attack the defence alliance between the US and its former colony, staging frequent street protests against the presence of US forces.