Pemberton trial enters ‘critical’ stage
OLONGAPO CITY—An expert witness, whom the prosecution had scheduled to present on Tuesday, failed to show up in the murder trial of US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, prompting the court to cancel the hearing for the first time since proceedings started in March.
Dr. Reynaldo Dave, medico-legal officer of the Philippine National Police’s crime laboratory in Central Luzon, was confined in the hospital due to severe abdominal pain, Deputy City Prosecutor Misael Ladaga said.
Dave led the autopsy of transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude’s body last year. His report released on Oct. 17 said Laude drowned when her head was forced into a toilet bowl in a motel room.
Laude was found dead inside the toilet of Celzone Lodge on Magsaysay Drive here shortly after her companion, whom witnesses identified as Pemberton, left their room on the night of Oct. 11 last year.
Despite the postponement of the hearing, lawyer Harry Roque, lead counsel of the Laude family, told reporters that they would file a motion in court to allow a re-autopsy of the body. The family made the request after reviewing the forensic evidence from the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service that the prosecutors were able to access only on April 23.
The motion is also in line with the request of the Medical Action Group (MAG), a human rights organization that provides forensic medical services to those in need, which they consulted, Roque said.
Since the prosecution has started presenting expert witnesses in court, the trial has reached the “critical phase,” the lawyer said.
A re-autopsy would allow forensic experts to examine the neck to determine if it was broken and what could have possibly caused it. The respiratory tract would be examined “through a gross microscopic examination of the lungs and the trachea and terminal air passages,” Roque said.
“[Laude’s sister Marilou] understands that her claims, in respect of the civil aspect of the case, are dependent on what may be proven in the criminal aspect of the case,” the motion said.
Roque said the procedure would “clarify or otherwise amplify important aspects of the autopsy already made on the victim’s remains, in order to firmly ground [Marilou’s] claim for damages arising from the murder of her sibling.”
P200M in damages
Last week, Marilou took the stand and sought at least
P200 million in moral and exemplary damages when the civil aspect was tackled in the trial. Half of the amount would compensate for the agony that the family had to go through because “Jennifer was treated like an animal,” Roque said, citing Marilou’s testimony.
Another P100 million is for exemplary damages.
If granted by the court, the re-autopsy will require the exhumation of remains from Heritage Garden here.
The motion has yet to be filed in Branch 74 of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court, pending the conformity of the prosecution panel headed by City Chief Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos. The panel has 15 days to act on it.
Roque said the family was hoping for the re-autopsy between May 15 and 22. Their request would not affect the prescribed one-year period to finish the trial since MAG forensic experts would need only at least a day to complete the procedure, he said.
On Monday, Dr. Maritess Ombao, a Philippine National Police pathologist, confirmed in court that Laude was strangled and had drowned.
Roque, however, noted that the defense counsels were accompanied on the same day by Dr. Raquel Fortun, a forensic pathologist.
“I’m puzzled to see Fortun with the defense counsels, although both parties have previously identified her as an expert witness,” Roque said. “If the defense will present her as an expert witness, then the prosecution should get its own expert,” he said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.