A Philippine court on Tuesday found a U.S. Marine guilty of killing a transgender woman, jailing him for six to 12 years in a case that has reignited debate over the American military presence in the country.
The Olongapo City regional trial court also ordered Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton to pay more than 4.5 million pesos ($95,350) to the family of Jennifer Laude, who was found dead last year in a hotel outside the former U.S. navy base northwest of Manila.
He will serve a minimum of six years and a maximum of 12 years in jail. Laude had been charged with murder but was convicted of the lesser offense of homicide, which does not require malicious intent.
He can appeal against the verdict and sentence.
"This is not quite a victory," Laude's sister, Malou, told Reuters. "We expected a murder conviction but instead got homicide. We are not contented with the decision."
Outside the hall of justice, there were protesters carrying placards saying "Justice for Jennifer laude! Justice for the Filipino people", "Jail Pemberton in the Philippines".
Pemberton will be temporarily held in the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa, south of the capital, until the Philippines and U.S. government agree on where he should serve his sentence as prescribed under a visiting forces agreement.
This term of 20 years to life was the maximum penalty the regional trial court could have handed down if Pemberton had been convicted of murder, after the Philippines repealed the death penalty in June 2006.
The case has stirred debate over the presence of American soldiers on Philippine soil after Filipino senators voted two decades ago to kick out U.S. bases in the country because of social issues, such as crimes committed by servicemen.
The two allies are waiting for the Philippine supreme court to approve a pact allowing the U.S. military to store supplies at Philippine bases for operations related to maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disasters.
Pemberton had earlier admitted in court to choking, but not killing, Laude. He told the court he acted in self-defense after he discovered that a man was giving him oral sex, not a woman.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)