A third defendant charged in the strangulation death of a Green Beret staff sergeant while deployed to Mali in 2017 has agreed to plead guilty.
Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator Tony E. DeDolph has agreed to plead guilty to some of the charges against him, while others are being dismissed as part of a pre-trial agreement, his attorney told Military Times.
“This agreement will end the contested charges, allowing SOC DeDolph to accept responsibility for those offenses he can and mitigate most of the concerns over classified material present in the case,” attorney Phillip Stackhouse wrote in an email response to queries about his client’s status.
Stackhouse added that his client “never intended to injure” Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in the hazing incident at the offsite residence where he and at least three other U.S. military members surprised Melgar while he was sleeping, restrained him and DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, put him in a chokehold that unexpectedly killed him.
“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 wrote.
DeDolph had faced charges following the June 4, 2017, incident that included conspiracy, assault, hazing, obstruction of justice, burglary, involuntary manslaughter and felony murder.
Stackhouse did not clarify the exact charges his client would plead to in his initial response to queries. But the Daily Beast has reported from sources familiar with the plea deal that DeDolph will plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice and hazing. The agreement between DeDolph, his attorney and the prosecution will see the felony murder and burglary charges dismissed.
He will also agree not to profit from the case, which includes earning money from his experience with SEAL Team 6, the media outlet reported.
Two others charged in the incident have already pleaded guilty.
Fellow SEAL Navy Chief SWO Adam C. Matthews and Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr. both pleaded guilty and agreed to testify on behalf of the prosecution in the upcoming trials.
A fourth co-defendant, Marine Raider Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, still faces charges and has a trial date schedule for Feb. 1 at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
All four men and others loosely connected to the case were in Mali for counterterrorism operations related to the U.S. Embassy in the country.
Matthews was the first to plead and laid out many details of the incident.
“I cannot describe how sorry I am for the death of Staff Sgt. Melgar,” Matthews testified in a military courtroom in Virginia in May 2019.
“I’ve carried the weight of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar’s death every minute of every day since that night in Mali,” Matthews said. “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 faced the same charges as DeDolph but ultimately pleaded guilty to conspiracy, unlawful entry, hazing, obstruction of justice and assault with battery.
Matthews was sentenced to one-year confinement and a bad conduct discharge. Maxwell pleaded guilty in June 2019 to negligent homicide, hazing and making false official statements. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Both testified that they, along with DeDolph and Madera-Rodriguez, planned together to break into Melgar’s room, duct tape him and video record him in a sexually embarrassing scenario.
Matthews had been in Bamako, Mali, only 24 hours before the incident, having arrived for what was planned to be the first of three site visits to the country. In the first few hours after his arrival, DeDolph told him that he and others had problems with Melgar they wanted to correct.
During an all-night session of bar hopping, Matthews testified at the May 2019 hearing, the SEALs, Raiders and an unnamed British special operations forces member hatched a plan to break into Melgar’s room as he slept, subdue him, duct tape him and video the affair to embarrass him.
At around 5 a.m. June 4, 2017, DeDolph reportedly woke an Army Special Forces sergeant first class, who was the team leader over Melgar’s detachment to ask his permission to conduct the hazing. Matthews testified that the sergeant agreed to the hazing but didn’t want to participate and went back to sleep.
The four men then used a sledgehammer at around 5 a.m. to break open Melgar’s door and surprise him as he slept, according to testimony from the two co-defendants.
He awoke immediately, and DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, pounced on Melgar, putting him in a choke hold; the other men secured his arms and legs and began to duct tape him, according to testimony.
Within seconds of being put in the choke hold, Melgar stopped breathing. The men later told investigators they immediately began trying to render lifesaving aid, which included a field-expedient tracheotomy. But Melgar later died at a nearby medical facility.
All of this allegedly was in retaliation for a perceived slight and ongoing tension between Melgar and the other men.
Witnesses at the May 2019 hearing for Matthews testified that Melgar was fed up with “juvenile” behavior of the SEALs and Marines and couldn’t wait to conclude his deployment ― scheduled to end in a few weeks ― and return home.
Within minutes of Melgar’s death, there was a plan to hide what had really happened. Matthews testified that they agreed he and DeDolph would “own it” and not mentioned the Marine involvement.
The SEALs lied to investigators, telling them that they’d been doing hand-to-hand combat training. They also claimed Melgar was intoxicated and once put in a submission hold he stopped breathing.
But Melgar’s friends soon told investigators that the staff sergeant didn’t drink alcohol. His wife, at home in the United States, later told them her husband wasn’t comfortable with how some of his fellow special operators were behaving on the deployment but he didn’t share details.
A combination of various commands have overseen the investigation. It moved from AFRICOM to special operations for all three services along with a shift from first the Army investigating and handing it over to the Navy once the Marines and SEALs involvement was confirmed. There was no public acknowledgement of the case until months after Melgar had died.
The four defendants were not charged until September 2018, more than a year after Melgar’s death.
DeDolph and Madera-Rodriguez did have trial dates in early 2020 that were moved twice due to COVID-19 restrictions before both sides in the DeDolph case reached the current plea agreement.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.