OLONGAPO CITY – A forensic expert testified in court yesterday that transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude was possibly still alive when Pemberton left him in a motel room here in October last year.
Rachel Fortun, a forensic pathologist and professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, also discounted the possibility that Laude died of asphyxia by drowning as claimed by prosecution witnesses.
Fortun is the last of the witnesses presented by the defense.
Private prosecutor Virgie Suarez said Fortun’s testimony aims to disprove that US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Pemberton killed Laude.
“The body of Laude is the best body of evidence. Her (Fortun) testimony is based on pictures and reports and it is simply her opinion. There is no direct statement from the defense that she (Laude) did not die of arm lock,” Suarez said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also said that the case against Pemberton has become stronger after the latter’s admission during trial that he choked the transgender.
This admission, she stressed, bolstered the prosecution’s case.
Police pathologist Reynaldo Dave earlier testified for the prosecution, saying he did the autopsy and that Laude’s body bore signs of punching and choking before Laude died by drowning.
Dave also said that traumatic injuries on Laude’s body mean the application of too much pressure to produce bleeding – hence the conclusion of strangulation.
He told the court in his testimony that the suppression shown by the hematoma in Laude’s larynx could be a result of an arm lock and that the oozing of fluids in the lungs with bubbles, a result of drowning.
Marites Ombao, a pathologist assigned at the police headquarters in Camp Crame, also conducted an autopsy on Laude and made a similar testimony in court.
Pemberton, who testified on Monday, admitted to choking Laude but stressed that he only did it in self-defense.
“Pemberton’s admission that he strangled Laude certainly helped the prosecution’s case,” she stressed, saying it affirmed the evidence presented by the prosecutors.
De Lima, who supervises the prosecuting team, said the murder case against Pemberton remains strong and that there is no cause for concern that it would be downgraded to homicide.
She added that the team, led by Olongapo City Prosecutor Emelie Fe delos Santos, will oppose moves of defense lawyers to lower the charge from murder to homicide.
“Our prosecutorial stance remains the same – target Pemberton’s conviction for murder and nothing less,” De Lima said.
In Monday’s hearing, Pemberton took the witness stand for the first time and told Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde that he was a victim of deception.
He said he had gotten drunk while on furlough in this city and had been deceived into believing that Laude was a female sex worker.
Pemberton said he discovered that Laude was not a woman as he was being given oral sex. Shocked, he reportedly pushed back Laude, who slapped him. The episode led to the choking, he added.
Defense counsel Rowena Flores explained that Pemberton’s testimony was meant to prove that the qualifying circumstances of treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty were not present in the murder case.
She said Pemberton “acted in self-defense and to protect his honor and life… and acted in immediate vindication of the wrong done to him.”