On Thursday, Chief Special Warfare Operator Tony E. DeDolph, a member of SEAL Team 6, pleaded guilty to and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the 2017 death of Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar.
The Virginia Pilot reported DeDeolph was convicted in a court-martial in Virginia after admitting he put Melgar in a chokehold, accidentally killing him.
With DeDolph’s guilty plea, his case now goes to a jury of other Navy chiefs, warrant officers, and commissioned officers, to consider his sentence. DeDolph reportedly faces more than 22 years in prison, but his plea agreement may allow for a lighter punishment.
DeDolph had faced conspiracy, assault, hazing, obstruction of justice, burglary, involuntary manslaughter and felony murder charges. Last week DeDolph’s attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, announced his client planned to plead guilty to some of the charges in agreement for charges being dropped.
Stackhouse did not specify which charges his client would plead to but said his client “never intended to injure” Melgar. The Virginia Pilot reported the Navy dropped the felony murder charge while DeDolph plead guilty to manslaughter, hazing, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges.
DeDolph was a former professional mixed martial arts fighter and on Thursday he told the court “I’ve performed this hold numerous times in training.”
DeDeolph is the third U.S. special operations member to plead guilty in connection with Melgar’s death, which occured on June 4, 2017.
DeDolph, along with fellow SEAL Navy Chief SWO Adam C. Matthews, U.S. Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr. and Marine Raider Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, are alleged to have taken part in a hazing ritual with Melgar that led to his death. The elite U.S. troops were in Mali as part of counterterrorism operations for the U.S. Embassy in the western African country. DeDolph and the three others are alleged to have surprised Melgar while he was sleeping and restrained him while DeDolph put Melgar in a chokehold that unexpectedly killed him.
Matthews was the first defendant to plead guilty to some of the charges in the case. Matthews faced the same charges as DeDolph and ultimately plead guilty to conspiracy, unlawful entry, hazing, obstruction of justice and assault with battery.
Matthews testified in a May 2019 court hearing that the plan to haze Melgar came together after he had been in Mali for just 24 hours, when DeDolph told him he had problems with Melgar that he wanted to correct.
Maxwell was the second defendant to plead guilty to negligent homicide, hazing and making false official statements. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Witnesses in the case testified that tension between Melgar and the other special operations troops reportedly came after Melgar had become annoyed by the SEALs and Marines’ “juvenile” behavior and Melgar couldn’t wait to conclude his deployment and return home in the coming weeks before he died.
Matthews and Maxwell testified part of Melgar’s perceived slight against the others came after Melgar left some Marines behind when he went to a party on June 3, 2017.
Matthews testified that DeDolph, the two Marine Raiders, and an unidentified British special operations forces member came up with the plan against Melgar after spending an evening bar-hopping.
When the four men broke into Melgar’s residence, Melgar immediately woke and DeDolph reportedly put him in a chokehold while the other men restrained his arms and legs. Melgar reportedly stopped breathing within seconds of being put in the choke hold. The men told investigators they immediately tried to resuscitate Melgar, but he ultimately died in a nearby medical facility.
Matthews testified that after Melgar died, the four men began planning how to obscure the circumstances of his death. Matthews testified he and DeDolph planned to take responsibility for Melgars death and not mention the Marines involved. The SEALs then reportedly lied to investigators and said Melgar died after participating in hand-to-hand combat training while he was intoxicated.
Melgar’s friends later told investigators he didn’t drink, putting the SEALs’ story in doubt. Melgar’s wife also told investigators about her husband’s discomfort working with the other special operations troops, though she said he didn’t share details.
The fourth defendant, Madera-Rodriguez, still faces charges in the case and is scheduled for a Feb. 1 at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.