Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator Tony E. DeDolph, a U.S. Navy SEAL with SEAL Team 6, has agreed to plead guilty to some of the charges against him in the June 4, 2017 strangulation death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a Green Beret, in Mali.
DeDolph’s attorney Phillip Stackhouse told Military Times his client agreed to plead guilty to some charges while other contested charges would be dropped, adding that his client “never intended to injure” Melgar. DeDolph is the third defendant in the case to plead guilty.
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.
DeDolph faced conspiracy, assault, hazing, obstruction of justice, burglary, involuntary manslaughter and felony murder charges. Stackhouse did not clarify which charges DeDolph would plead to and were to be dropped, but sources familiar with DeDolph’s plea agreement told the Daily Beast DeDolph would plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice and hazing.
“The fact that SSG Melgar’s death was not intentional may not lessen the righteous feelings of grief by family and friends, but perhaps the resolution of this case will further help them find closure and peace,” Stackhouse told Military Times.
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 reportedly laid out many of the details of the incident that lead to Melgar’s death and in a May 2019 court appearance said, “I cannot describe how sorry I am for the death of Staff Sgt. Melgar. I’ve carried the weight of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar’s death every minute of every day since that night in Mali. I am tormented by my complacency at a time when my teammates required guidance and the situation required bold, decisive action. This was my fault and I accept total responsibility for the consequences of my poor decision.”
Matthews was sentenced to a one-year confinement and a bad conduct discharge.
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.
Matthews and Maxwell testified that part of the plan to haze Melgar involved video recording him in a sexually embarrassing scenario. Matthews testified the plan involved one of two Malian guards working at Melgar’s residence, known as “Big Man,” who he said agreed to assault Melgar with his shirt off while wearing a leash.
Matthews testified in the 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.
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 mentioned 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.