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 / Updated  / Source: Reuters
By Reuters

MANILA, Philippines — A U.S. Marine on Monday admitted in court to choking, but not killing, a Filipino transgender in self-defense in a case that could test the strength of security ties between the Philippines and the United States.

Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is being held at a U.S. facility at the main army base in Manila, has been charged with the murder of Jeffrey Laude, who was found dead on Oct. 11 last year in a seedy hotel in Olongapo City, near a former U.S. naval base north of Manila.

Joseph Scott Pemberton entering court in March.JAY DIRECTO / AFP - Getty Images

Pemberton told the court he acted in self-defense after he discovered that a man was giving him oral sex, not a woman. He pushed the transgender away and was slapped in return. That was when he choked the victim.

"Pemberton told the court he thought Laude just lost consciousness after he strangled her, which he considered an act of self-defense," Harry Roque, a lawyer for the victim's family, told reporters.

Pemberton's lawyers told journalists Laude was still alive when the marine left the hotel.

The defendant faces jail term of 20 years to life if found guilty. A verdict is expected next month.

Related: U.S. Marine Charged in Filipino Transgender's Murder

The case, being heard by a court in Olongapo, could sway public opinion against a new defense cooperation deal signed with the United States last year, testing relations as the two allies face growing tensions in the South China Sea with an increasingly assertive China.

The pact allows the U.S. military to store supplies in Philippine bases for operations related to maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disasters but is being questioned before the Philippine Supreme Court.