Marine's appeal of Philippines rape conviction stirs outcry over custody
U.S. and Philippine government authorities are scrambling for custody of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith after the judge in Manila who found him guilty Monday of rape transferred him to Philippine police.
Smith, 21, a Marine assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit on Okinawa, spent Monday night in the Makati jail in suburban Manila after being sentenced to 40 years in prison, said one of his lawyers, Benjamin Formoso.
Smith’s lawyers have appealed the verdict and said they plan to petition the Makati court to return Smith to U.S. custody unless the issue can be resolved through diplomatic channels.
In Manila, U.S. Embassy spokesman Matt Lussenhop said Tuesday that U.S. government officials are working with Philippine authorities to expedite Smith’s return to U.S. custody, as spelled out by the Visiting Forces Agreement.
“We feel the VFA very clearly states that custody resides with U.S. authorities until completion of all judicial proceedings,” Lussenhop said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “The process to get him returned to U.S. custody is under way right now.”
High-ranking officials with the Philippine Justice Department and Department of Foreign Affairs have stated publicly they support the U.S. interpretation of the VFA regarding custody of U.S. servicemembers.
But giving the United States custody of Smith “would be a slap in the face” to the Philippine judicial system, attorney Evalyn Ursua said at a news conference Tuesday, the INQ7.net Web site reported. Ursua is the lawyer for “Nicole,” the 23-year-old woman whom Smith was convicted of raping Nov. 1, 2005, at the former U.S. naval base in Subic Bay. “The custody (of Smith by the U.S.) is out of the question,” Ursua said, adding the government must get the court’s permission to divert custody, INQ7.net reported.
Judge Benjamin Pozon’s move to hand over Smith to Philippine custody Monday reportedly caused a confrontation in court between U.S. Embassy security personnel and local police over an apparent misunderstanding of who should have custody of Smith. Philippine police eventually led Smith away in handcuffs.
Where Smith would go if returned to U.S. authorities remains unclear. Smith and three fellow Marine co-defendants — Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier, Lance Cpl. Keith Silkwood and Lance Cpl. Dominic Duplantis — remained at the U.S. Embassy in Manila during the police investigation and the seven-month trial. Carpentier, Silkwood and Duplantis were acquitted and returned to their Okinawa unit following Monday’s court hearing.
“Nicole” was quoted Tuesday as bracing for a lengthy legal battle in light of Smith’s appeal. She said she felt a bit sorry for Smith, since he’s so young. “But of course that is the law, he should be punished” with no special treatment given.
Formoso said Smith “was in shock” following his conviction. “He was crying yesterday when he talked to his parents.”
Smith, from St. Louis, hasn’t seen his parents in over a year, Formoso said. “He’s been in communication with his family because he has a cell phone,” he said, “but he doesn’t want his family to come (to the Philippines) because he feels bad.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.