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The Pemberton-Laude Case: Understanding Murder and Homicide

From the Facebook accounts of Joseph Scott Pemberton and the late Jennifer Laude.

Earlier this week, in the news, we have all witnessed coverage of the conclusion to the case filed against US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton regarding the killing of the transgender Filipino Jennifer Laude. The family of the deceased, we were told, was jubilant in that Pemberton was found guilty of homicide; but was nonetheless disappointed that he was not found guilty of murder instead.

Although I watch as much crime TV as the average person, I must admit that I have not really bothered to find out the technical and legal differences between murder and homicide. The Pemberton case offered an excuse to finally do so.

The Advanced English Dictionary defines homicide as “the killing of a human being by another human being.”

According to the Revised Philippine Penal Code as provided by the Chan Robles Virtual Library, if a person kills “father, mother, or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, or any of his ascendants, or descendants, or his spouse,” he shall be guilty of parricide and be given the penalty of reclusion perpetua. This is legalese for 20 years and 1 day to 40 years.

If a person kills another person who is not his “father, mother, or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate” and are not his “ascendants, descendants or spouse,” then according to Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code, he is guilty of homicide as Pemberton has been found in the case filed by the family of Laude.

Homicide in Philippine Law is punished by reclusion temporal. This means imprisonment for 12 to 20 years. In Pemberton’s case, the penalty given by the court was imprisonment of 6 to 12 years on account of mitigating circumstances borne of “passion and obfuscation.” The second term simply means bewilderment or the failure to understand.

From what I understand of the case, this probably refers to what has previously been reported as Pemberton’s anger upon discovering that Laude was not biologically female.

The homicide verdict was arrived at by the court because apparently the charge of murder was not successfully proven. According to the Revised Penal Code, murder is really homicide committed with aggravating circumstances.

These include
  • “the presence of treachery, taking advantage of superior strength, with the aid of armed men, or employing means to weaken the defence or of means or persons to insure or afford impunity;”
  • “in consideration of a price, reward of promise;”
  • use of “inundation, fire, poison, explosion, shipwreck, stranding of a vessel, derailment or assault upon a street car or locomotive, fall of an airship, by means of motor vehicles, or with the use of any other means involving great waste and ruin;”
  • if the killing was committed during the  “occasion of any of the calamities enumerated in the preceding paragraph, or of an earthquake, eruption of a volcano, destructive cyclone, epidemic or other public calamity;
  • the presence of “evident premeditation;”
  • if the killing was accompanied by “cruelty, by deliberately and inhumanly augmenting the suffering of the victim, or outraging or scoffing at his person or corpse.”
The penalty for murder under Philippine Law is also reclusion temporal but in the maximum length of 17 years and 4 months to 20 years imprisonment.

There is, curiously enough, another type of killing other than parricide, homicide and murder that is described under the Revised Penal Code. Under Article 247 of the code, if a legally married person chances upon his or her spouse committing sexual intercourse with another person and in an act of passion kills either or both of them or inflicts serious bodily harm, the person is given this obscure penalty called destierro.

According to the Legal Wiki, destierro is banishment or “prohibition from residing within the radius of twenty (25) kilometres from the actual residence of the accused for a specified length of time.” Although destierro is described by the penal code as punishment, it is at the same time also protection for the accused.

At this point, I must confess to obfuscation because I am not sure whether the “accused” being described is the person who kills or inflicts serious bodily harm to the spouse and his or her lover or the spouse who committed the adulterous act. If there are lawyers who chance upon this article, please note that I am most willing to be educated.

Finally, there is a term we often hear in western crime TV shows that is not really covered in Philippine Law: manslaughter. Wikipedia says that manslaughter is a legal term for “the killing of a human being, in a manner considered by law as less culpable than murder.”

In the context of American Law, TransLegal.com explains that in manslaughter, there is the presence of intent but not the intent to kill. The web site gives the example of one person stabbing another person but only with the intent to hurt. If the person stabbed dies of the wound(s), anyway, then the stabber may be convicted of manslaughter.

There you are! If you had the patience to stay through the end of this article, then I guess like me you will be better equipped the next time you watch your favourite television crime series.

[Note to lawyers: I would welcome corrections or clarifications to this article. Please use the comments section below.]