MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines on Tuesday rejected an appeal by a U.S. Marine that it drop a murder case against him in the death of a transgender Filipino woman last year.

A Department of Justice panel said evidence from prosecutors against Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton showed that he killed Jennifer Laude after picking her up in a bar in Olongapo city in October.

Police said Laude, formerly known as Jeffrey, was found dead with her head inside a toilet bowl in a hotel minutes after Pemberton left the room.

The case has refueled opposition to a military agreement between Manila and Washington that allows U.S. custody over American service members accused of crimes in the Philippines.

Pemberton, from Bristol, Massachusetts, took part in combat exercises involving thousands of American and Filipino troops.

U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg has said Washington is "sensitive" to Filipino sentiments over the killing and agreed to have Pemberton detained inside a Philippine military camp in Manila but under U.S. guard.

Pemberton's lawyers argued in the appeal that there was no direct evidence that he killed Laude, but the panel said prosecutors can utilize circumstantial evidence to prove their case.

"If direct evidence is insisted upon under all circumstances, the guilt of vicious felons who committed heinous crimes in secret or in secluded places will be hard, if not impossible, to prove," it said.

It said it was established that Pemberton and several fellow Marines visited a bar where he met Laude and the two agreed to get a room in a nearby hotel.

It cited testimony of a fellow Marine to investigators that Pemberton had told him, "I think I killed a he/she."

Benjamin Tolosa Jr., a lawyer for Pemberton, said the defense can ask the Justice Department to reconsider its decision. If that is also denied, they have the option of going to the Court of Appeals, he said.

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