A Marine Raider headed to trial Monday in the death of an Army Green Beret faces a possible sentence of life without parole.
Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez begins what is scheduled to be a three-week trial at Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia, on charges of conspiracy, assault, obstruction of justice, involuntary manslaughter, hazing, false official statements and felony murder in the June 4, 2017, death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar.
Three co-defendants in the case pleaded guilty over the past two years.
The first, Navy SEAL Chief Special Warfare Officer Adam C. Matthews, was followed by Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr. and, in January, Navy SEAL Chief SWO Tony E. DeDolph.
DeDolph pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received 10 years in prison, reduction to E-1, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge.
Maxwell pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, conspiracy to commit assault, hazing, obstruction of justice and making false official statements. He was sentenced to four years of confinement, reduction in rank to E-1 and a bad conduct discharge.
Matthews pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and related charges and was sentenced to one year of confinement, reduction to petty officer second class and a bad conduct discharge.
“I’ve carried the weight of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar’s death every minute of every day since that night in Mali,” Matthews testified in May 2019. “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.”
All three said they did not intend to seriously harm Melgar.
The four men were charged with planning a hazing of Melgar at his off-site residence in Bamako, Mali, on June 4, 2017.
DeDolph and the two Marines had friction working on the counterterrorism team with Melgar and some felt slighted when they said that Melgar had snubbed them by not giving them a ride to a U.S. embassy party.
Melgar had told his wife in phone calls home that he hated the current deployment and was fed up with the “juvenile” behavior of the SEALs and Marines on his team. He didn’t share details and was eager to return home in the coming weeks when his deployment ended.
The four men went on an all-night bar hopping trip where they planned to rush Melgar, pin him down and take sexually compromising photos of the staff sergeant.
The plotters gathered duct tape and a sledgehammer and at about 5 a.m. burst through Melgar’s bedroom door, subduing him as he fought back. DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, put Melgar in a chokehold while the others tried to restrain and duct tape him.
But almost immediately, Melgar stopped breathing.
The four men stopped and began to try to resuscitate him, including a field expedient tracheotomy. Unsuccessful, they took him to a nearby medical clinic. But staff were unable to revive him.
Immediately, the men began to cover up what happened.
The SEALs told the Marines they’d take the hit. The two SEALs first told investigators that they had been practicing hand-to-hand combat training with Melgar at those early morning hours.
Later, they claimed that Melgar had been drinking, which might have contributed to his reaction to the chokehold.
But neither was true.
And, eventually, three admitted to what had happened.
DeDolph, Matthews and Maxwell have all agreed to testify, if they are called, in Madera-Rodriguez’s trial on behalf of the prosecution.
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.