MANILA — US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton is hoping to go back to school after receiving a pardon from President Rodrigo Duterte for killing a Filipina transgender, his lawyer said Tuesday.
The 25-year-old Pemberton has been in prison since the October 2014 killing of Jennifer Laude, whom he met at a bar while on a break from military exercises in the northern city of Olongapo.
The US soldier had no internet connection and no phone in a repurposed container van where he was jailed in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, said his lawyer Rowena Flores.
About a third of this van was for Pemberton’s use and two-thirds was for his guards who were “hovering all the time”, she said.
In his nearly 6-year detention, the US lance corporal only had his guards and lawyer to talk to, and was only visited “once or twice” by his mother, said Flores.
He was not allowed to walk the camp grounds and “was inside the jail the whole time,” she added.
To while away time, Pemberton, who comes from a devout Christian family, read the Bible everyday and marked portions that he liked, said his lawyer.
A local court ruled last week that Pemberton qualified for early release due to good behavior, but was still being held due to an appeal. Duterte's pardon clears all legal obstacles to the soldier's release, despite him serving just over half his 10-year sentence.
Pemberton, a “man of very few words”, appeared “very happy” in his phone call with Flores about the pardon, she said.
Flores said she did not know whether or not the US military would dismiss Pemberton from service.
“He wants to work to support himself in college… I’m not sure if he has plans for now other than to get out of the country,” she told ANC.
Flores hopes Pemberton could leave the country “by Friday” with clearance from the immigration bureau and the National Bureau of Investigation.
“What I can assure you is that he will not be spirited away from the country, and he will comply with whatever requirement there is,” the lawyer said.
She said she would advise Pemberton to write a letter to the Laude family.
The Laude family lawyer earlier condemned the absolute pardon, calling it a "mockery" of the country's justice system.
"This is another injustice -- not only to Jennifer Laude and family but a grave injustice to the Filipino people," Virginia Suarez said in a statement.
"This is a travesty of Philippine sovereignty and democracy."
Duterte, a former prosecutor, said in a televised speech that it was his personal decision to pardon Pemberton after learning about his case in the news.
"You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So I will release him (through) pardon," he said after meeting his cabinet, including the justice minister.
Duterte said officials had not accurately measured the jail time served by Pemberton under a law that rewards good behavior with shorter terms.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse