US Marine Daniel Smith has been found not guilty of raping a Philippines woman, overturning a life sentence handed down in 2006 by a lower court, a court of appeals official said.


“No evidence was presented to show force, threat and intimidation applied by the accused upon Nicole,” read the ruling issued by Court of Appeals Justice Monina Zenarosa, referring to the victim\’s code name.

The court also ordered the marine\’s immediate release from detention.

Sentenced to life in jail

Lance Corporal Smith, now 24, was ordered jailed for life in December 2006 after he was found guilty by a lower court of raping a Filipino woman in the back of a van in the company of fellow US marines in November 2005.

The lower court had earlier heard that Smith met the woman in a bar in the northern Philippines port of Subic after taking part in joint US-Philippines military exercises.

The high-profile case prompted Washington to threaten to call off large-scale exercises with Manila until Smith was transferred to a detention centre within the US embassy, where he remains to this day.

US mission spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson was unavailable for comment, her office told AFP.

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo\’s spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo told reporters: “We respect the verdict of the court.”

Victim doubts own statement

After the case went to the higher court on appeal, it acquired a new twist last month when the supposed victim made a fresh testimony casting doubt on her previous recollection that Smith had forced himself on her against her will.

The woman has since left for the United States to live with her American boyfriend who she had met after the alleged rape.

The case has outraged nationalist and leftist groups, who have demanded that Smith be returned a local jail.