A Marine Raider found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2017 hazing death of a Green Beret in Mali has received his sentence from a military jury.
Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez was found guilty of hazing, making false official statements, conspiracy charges and involuntary manslaughter ― but not guilty of felony murder, his most serious charge along with burglary, though the jury did find him guilty of a lesser offense of “housebreaking.”
His punishment, decided by the jury, will include reprimand, reduction in paygrade to E-1, performing hard labor without confinement for 90 days and confinement for six months, according to his defense lawyer.
Unlike the other three service members involved in the incident, Madera-Rodriguez will receive no punitive discharge, Vokey said, meaning no bad conduct discharge nor dishonorable discharge.
Madera-Rodriguez also will not have to forfeit any salary or pay any fines.
“It was an appropriate and just sentence given GySgt Madera’s lesser role in the hazing and the whole incident,” defense attorney Colby Vokey told Marine Corps Times in an email Monday.
Madera-Rodriguez was the final of four co-defendants to be sentenced for the strangulation death of Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar.
On June 4, 2017, Melgar had been in his bedroom in off-site housing he shared with other special operators in Bamako, Mali, when the four service members and a local man broke through with a sledgehammer.
The plan was to subdue Melgar and take sexually compromising photos of him with the near naked local man.
Melgar woke up, however, so two Navy SEALS and two Marine Raiders placed him in a chokehold and started taping his wrists and ankles. That’s when Melgar stopped breathing.
The men stopped the attack and began lifesaving procedures, including a field-expedient tracheotomy, later taking Melgar to a nearby medical clinic where he was pronounced dead.
During the trial, prosecutors argued the men had violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and knew the dangers of putting Melgar in a chokehold.
Navy Cmdr. Benjamin B. Garcia told jurors that Madera-Rodriguez chose to get duct tape to help tie up the Green Beret and then chose to help restrain him while a Navy SEAL applied the chokehold.
“They tied him up, and he could not tap out,” Garcia said.
An email to the public affairs team for the prosecution for comment on the sentence has not yet been answered.
The defense argued from the outset that Melgar’s death was not intentional and essentially was a hazing incident gone wrong.
Still, Madera-Rodriguez had taken a gamble by pleading not guilty and going to trial. If he had been found guilty of felony murder, the gunnery sergeant would have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison, with possible eligibility for parole.
The other three defendants took plea deals.
Navy SEAL Chief SWO Tony E. DeDolph had pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received 10 years in prison, reduction to E-1, forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge. DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial artist, was the individual who put Melgar in the chokehold.
Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr. had 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, a reduction in rank to E-1 and a bad conduct discharge.
Navy SEAL Chief Special Warfare Officer Adam C. Matthews had pleaded guilty to conspiracy and related charges. He was sentenced to one year of confinement, reduction to petty officer second class and a bad conduct discharge.
The verdict came after deliberations following a three-week trial at Norfolk Naval Station, Virginia.
Vokey said the defense is pleased with the outcome.
“It was also appropriate and just given his truly remarkable prior service and bravery in the line of duty,” Vokey said, noting that a Silver Star Medal had been approved for Madera-Rodriguez’s actions in Mali in 2015 but never presented as a result of the hazing incident.
“GySgt Madera is grateful for the members’ attentiveness and attention to detail throughout the trial,” Vokey said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the minimum sentence the Marine would have faced if convicted of felony murder.
Andrea Scott is editor of Marine Corps Times.
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.