It started as a joke in a nightclub. Hours later, after a Green Beret died while being hazed by members of the elite special operations community, it turned into an elaborate cover-up.
Now, a Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marine Raider will spend four years in confinement for his role in the June 4, 2017, early morning death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar while deployed in Bamako, Mali.
Marine Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr. is the second of four special operators to appear in the Melgar case. He pleaded guilty Thursday to charges including negligent homicide, conspiracy to commit assault, hazing, obstructing justice and making false official statements to investigators. Murder and involuntary manslaughter charges that he also faced were dropped.
Following a court martial at Norfolk Naval Station Thursday, Marine Col. Glen Hines also sentenced him Friday morning to a bad conduct discharge and a reduction in rank to private.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Adam Matthews, a member of the Virginia Beach-based SEAL Team 6, was sentenced in May to a year of confinement and a bad conduct discharge after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit assault, obstruction of justice, unlawful entering and hazing in the case. His bad conduct discharge may be reconsidered if Matthews cooperates in testifying against other service members and if the Melgar family agrees.
Two others, Chief Special Warfare Operator Tony DeDolph and Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, a Marine Raider, face murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and hazing charges. Those cases have not been scheduled, said Navy Region Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Beth Baker.
Maxwell testified that he had become friends with Melgar and that they had spent part of the afternoon on June 3, 2017, on a boat cruise on the Niger River having drinks before parting ways. Later, Maxwell arrived at a bar where other Americans, including Matthews, DeDolph and Madera-Rodriguez, were drinking and he learned that some were upset that Melgar had ditched them on his way to an embassy party. That’s when DeDolph began hatching a plot that, at first, seemed like a joke.
“Everyone thought it was funny, everyone was laughing, everyone was joking,” Maxwell said.
Melgar was sleeping in his room when the four operators, accompanied by a British citizen and two Malian guards, arrived at the house shared by the SEALs and Green Berets between 5 and 6 a.m., Maxwell testified. There, they broke into Melgar’s room and bound him with tape while DeDolph put him in a chokehold. Melgar lost consciousness once but woke up, then was choked out again.
After efforts to resuscitate Melgar failed, Maxwell testified that the SEALs told him they “were going to take it” to minimize the number of people involved and make it look like the Green Beret had died during what he called an “accidental wrestling match.”
“It would look bad if it was five or six or seven on one,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said he continued to lie to Army and Navy investigators through most of 2018, including about a stop at a separate Marine house, where the group picked up tape they used in the assault.
It appeared that the scheme worked, at first. Melgar’s widow, Michelle, said she was initially told that her husband had been found convulsing and that DeDolph and Matthews tried to help, but she knew he had not been sick and had spoken with him just hours before his death. During Matthews’ court martial, Michelle Melgar said her husband told her that the SEALs had been acting immature. Maxwell also said there was tension between the SEALs and Green Berets in Mali.
Michelle Melgar said she had to fight to get the Army to believe that something more sinister had happened to her husband.
“There’s no precedent for this, nor should there be,” she said.
During questioning by Navy prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin Garcia, Maxwell also said there had been a plan to sexually assault Melgar but he did not elaborate. He also said he was responsible for destroying a SIM card from a phone that may have contained video.
While Maxwell testified that his role in the hazing was wrong, another Marine Raider who had previously worked with him and who testified on his behalf Thursday described witnessing pranks, fights, cruel jokes and other incidents that evolved out of “boredom.”
In one, a Marine was taped in a sleeping bag that was then taped to the grille of a Humvee and driven on a security patrol, the Marine, whose name was sealed, said. He also said he was aware of incidents in which Marines were taped between mattresses and thrown from a second floor balcony.
Maxwell, 29, joined the Marines in 2008 and has served with the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Lejuene since 2013, according to Navy records. He will begin serving his sentence at the brig in Camp Lejuene, Baker said.
Photos of Melgar with his family were shown throughout the sentencing phase Thursday, including one that his mother, Nitza Melgar, said she received the evening of June 3, 2017. Melgar appeared to be on the river. Another photo showed his body arriving at Dover Air Force Base.
The night Melgar died, “he looked at you,” Nitza Melgar said, addressing Maxwell from the stand. “He trusted you.”
© 2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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