A Navy SEAL charged in the strangulation death of an Army Green Beret staff sergeant in 2017 pleaded guilty to reduced charges today.
During a hearing at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator Tony E. DeDolph pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, conspiracy charges related to assault and obstruction of justice, and hazing.
DeDolph faces a maximum punishment of 22 years, six months in prison, reduction to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, a fine and dishonorable discharge.
Arguments by both the prosecution and defense in regard to sentencing began Thursday and are scheduled to continue tomorrow. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, following the Monday federal holiday.
DeDolph’s civilian attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, shared a statement on behalf of his client following the Thursday hearing in which he said that the incident began as a prank and was never intended to hurt Melgar.
“Staff Sergeant Melgar’s death was an accident and unintentional and a tragedy for all that knew him,” according to the statement.
DeDolph is the third defendant to plead guilty of the four service members charged in connection with the June 4, 2017, death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Bamako, Mali.
Marine Raider Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 1. He faces felony murder charges along with conspiracy, obstruction of justice, assault, hazing and burglary. If convicted of the murder charge, he would face a life sentence.
Fellow SEAL Navy Chief SWO Adam C. Matthews and Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr., who had originally been charged with murder, previously pleaded guilty to lesser charges and agreed to testify on behalf of the prosecution.
All four men and others loosely connected to the case were in Mali for counterterrorism operations related to the U.S. Embassy there.
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 Norfolk 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 received a sentence of one-year confinement and a bad conduct discharge. Maxwell pleaded guilty a month later 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, together planned to break into Melgar’s room, duct tape him and video record him in a sexually embarrassing embarassing act.
The quartet planned their attack during an all-night bar-hopping and drinking session. They used a sledgehammer at around 5 a.m. to break open Melgar’s door and surprise him as he slept, the men testified.
Melgar awoke immediately, DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, then 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.
Seconds after being locked in the choke hold, Melgar stopped breathing. The men told investigators they began to conduct lifesaving aid. But Melgar later died at a nearby medical facility.
The entire incident was in retaliation for a perceived slight and ongoing tension between Melgar and some of the other men.
Witnesses at the May 2019 hearing for Matthews testified that Melgar was fed up with the “juvenile” behavior of the SEALs and Marines and couldn’t wait to conclude his deployment ― scheduled to end a few weeks later.
Within minutes of Melgar’s death, the four men hatched a plan to cover up the crime and proceeded to lie to multiple investigators over the next few weeks.
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.