Various developments marked the first week of the trial of US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the main suspect in the death of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude, including the re-emergence of the issue of plea bargain, and the appearance in court of key witnesses.
NO PLEA BARGAIN AGREEMENT
The camp of slain transgender woman Laude expressed dismay over Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie delos Santos for allegedly pushing the family to enter a plea bargain agreement with the camp of Pemberton.
Hours before the trial began, the lead counsel of the Laude family, Atty. Harry Roque, said that “in the last hearing, she (Delos Santos) manifested that she would want to proceed with the plea bargain, where Pemberton could plea to a charge of homicide and will allow the civil case to continue; (this) is unprecedented,” Roque said. “Given the preference of Judge Delos Santos to enter this plea bargain, there’s now no guarantee for the Laude family that the prosecution will remain steadfast to procure a conviction for murder.”
Due to this, the camp of Laude submitted a formal request to the Department of Justice, requesting for Delos Santos to be replaced.
“The Laudes (submitted) a formal letter to ask that Delos Santos should be replaced, believing that thousand of prosecutors in the National Prosecution Service ought to be prosecuting, as they would be able and willing to see a convicted Pemberton for murder and not homicide,” Roque said.
DOJ Secretary Leila De Lima already said that she would look into the complaint of the Laude family against Delos Santos, and has also directed the prosecutor to make comment about it “before I make a decision.”
Roque remained optimistic that their request will be granted by the DOJ.
“The victims have lost their confidence with the public prosecutor. I don’t see why the DOJ Secretary will consider Delos Santos as absolutely indispensable in this case given her actuation. And take note, her actuation took place in court. (And if our request is denied), we will go to court. Victims cannot be ignored in a criminal case,” Roque said.
THE BELLBOY TAKES THE STAND
A bellboy at the Celzone Lodge, the hotel where Jennifer was found dead, took the stand on March 23, the first day of trial.
Elias Gallamos, the first witness presented by the government prosecutors, narrated the what he witnessed on the night of October 11, the night Laude was killed. Gallamos identified Pemberton as the man he saw with Jennifer, when the two checked-in at the hotel; he pointed to Pemberton, who sat in the courtroom, according to one of the Laude’s lawyers.
The US marine and Laude supposedly met at Ambyanz Disco earlier the night before they headed to Celzone Lodge.
Other details of the proceedings were not made available to journalists, as media coverage was barred during the trial.
THE CLOSE FRIEND AS THE STAR WITNESS
The star witness of the prosecution took the stand on the second day of the trial.
Barbie (birth name Mark Clarence Gelviro), a close friend of Laude, first made her testimony in the Senate, when Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago requested for her presence last October 2014.
It was noted by Atty. Virgie Suarez, lawyer of the Laude family, that during the trial last March 24, Barbie was calm and consistent with her answers, and “she showed confidence the entire time, and that was a good thing.”
The defense did not show much objections throughout Barbie’s narration. For Suarez, this may be a tactical response on their part.
During the direct examination, Barbie also admitted that she’s a sex worker. However, she said that she does not know if Jennifer was also engaged in sex work.
“I may say that there were questions na hindi magaganda (that were distasteful), focusing on Barbie being a sex worker or a prostitute. But I don’t think those issues (Barbie being a sex worker) will in any way lessen her testimony, because again, being a prostitute does not mean that you can’t be killed when your customer is not satisfied or anything,” Suarez said.
On the issue of a plea bargain, Suarez said that it’s no longer an issue as “we are now on trial, so that’s already water under the bridge and we can no longer get back to the that. We are now proceeding with trial, tuloy tuloy na ito (this will already progress).”
But the trial ended early, as the third witness – Jacinto Miraflor, Celzone Lodge’s security guard on duty at the time when Jennifer was found dead – was not able to testify due to health reasons.
Julita, the mother of Jennifer; and Marilou, her sister, may also become possible witnesses. They were therefore not allowed to be inside the courtroom during the trial. Michelle, another sister of Jennifer, was the only one present in the courtroom.
“Normal na normal si Barbie sa loob, hindi siya natatakot. Nakakatuwa dahil nung tinuro niya talaga si Pemberton, na si Pemberton talaga ‘yung kasama nila that night, tumayo siya (Pemberton), makikita mo sa mukha niya na nahihiya siya, na-conscious siya (Barbie was very normal/natural, she was not scared. It was good that when she pointed out Pemberton, that it was Pemberton who was with them that night, he stood up, and you can see in his face that he was ashamed, he looked conscious),” Michelle said.
A MOTHER’S GRIEF
Although Julita was not present in the courtroom, but she waited outside.
“Ang babaw talaga ng kaligayahan ang tingin nila sa amin. Talagang akala nila na pwede na nila magawa o maapakan ‘yung karapatan namin. Ang gusto ko lang naman talaga mangyari ay ‘yung makulong siya (Pemberton), maranasan niya, maisip man lang niya, bakit ko ginawa ‘yun (They think our source of happiness is very shallow. They think they can take or step on our rights. What we really want to happen is for him to be jailed, for him to experience, to make him realize why he did what he did),” she said.
Julita also expressed dismay over the supposed P21 million agreement with the camp of Pemberton.
“Ang sinasabi nila na ganung halaga ang hinihingi namin, hindi katumbas ‘yun. Kasi ako ang nakakaalam kung gaano kasakit ang nangyari. Hindi na nila maibabalik sa akin ‘yung anak ko, ‘yung pagmamahal niya, ‘yung haplos niya tuwing nagkikita kami, hindi mababayaran ng milyon (When they said that that’s the amount we’re asking for, I say that’s not worth considering. Because I personally know how painful what happened is. They can not return to me my child, her love, her touches whenever we see each other; they can’t pay those even with millions),” she said.
The trial will resume on April 13 and is expected to last until September.