Marine Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez faces possible life in prison if found guilty of the most severe charge of felony murder in Melgar’s June 4, 2017 death in Bamako, Mali.
Two co-defendants have already pleaded guilty to their involvement and been sentenced. Madera-Rodriguez and Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator Tony E. DeDolph made initial appearances in August when their charges were referred to general court-martial by Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock, commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, Norfolk, Virginia.
Madera-Rodriguez was arraigned on charges of conspiracy to assault and battery, obstruction of justice, burglary, felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, hazing orders violation and making a false official statement, according to court records.
The lesser charges on the arraignment give military prosecutors the option to prove those elements rather than the higher standard of felony murder. They also allow for Madera-Rodriguez to plead to lesser charges, if he chooses to do so.
Madera-Rodriguez’ civilian attorney, Colby Vokey, told Military Times that the arraignment on Tuesday was part of the court process and he did not immediately provide further comment on the status of his client’s case.
Philip Stackhouse, attorney for co-defendant DeDolph, told Military Times that his client’s arraignment has been delayed for scheduling purposes but is scheduled for Jan. 10 and a tentative trial date is set for March. Madera-Rodriguez’ potential trial would likely follow DeDolph’s.
“This case is nothing short of sad for everyone involved. A soldier died and careers have been ended as the unintended result of what happened in Mali in 2017,” Stackhouse wrote in an email response to Military Times.
“What is also unfortunate is the sloppy handling by the investigators that makes the situation more difficult and the over-charging recommended by prosecutors and adopted by the Convening Authority to exact a trial tax from Chief DeDolph,” he wrote. “What happened to Staff Sergeant Melgar in 2017 was a tragic accident and how it has been handled thus far has snowballed into an injustice.”
Vokey, a retired Marine officer, said in August that an NCIS agent named Ethan Pickett assigned to investigate Melgar’s death got into a relationship with a female witness in the Mali case who worked in intelligence.
Following Vokey’s claim, NCIS provided a short statement:
“Upon receipt of a credible misconduct allegation, NCIS immediately removed the agent from the investigation and referred the matter for appropriate action, consistent with applicable Human Resources guidelines and policies,” an NCIS spokesman said in a statement. “Out of respect for the ongoing investigative and judicial processes, NCIS will not comment further until those processes have concluded.”
Co-defendants Marine Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr., 29, and Navy SEAL Adam C. Matthews, 33, both pleaded guilty earlier this year. Maxwell was sentenced to four years in military prison after having been charged with negligent homicide, hazing and making false official statements.
Matthews was the first to plea and laid out previously unconfirmed details about Melgar’s death in offsite embassy housing. Matthews received a year’s confinement and bad conduct discharge for his role in the death.
In Matthews’ May hearing, he told the court that he, Maxwell, DeDolph and Madera-Rodriguez and an unidentified British special operator together planned to break into Melgar’s room, restrain him, duct tape him and video record him in a sexually embarrassing incident all in retaliation for what the group perceived as personal slights made by Melgar during the preceding deployment, which was nearing an end.
The quartet of U.S. servicemen made the plan during a night of drinking and bar hopping in Bamako. Earlier in the evening Melgar had apparently snubbed some of the group by ignoring them while driving to an embassy party.
At around 5 a.m., the group burst into Melgar’s room. DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial artist, put Melgar in a choke hold while the others began to restrain him and tie him with duct tape. During the attack, Melgar stopped breathing. The men shifted into rescue mode, performing CPR and a field expedient tracheotomy. They then rushed him to a nearby clinic where he was pronounced dead.
Almost immediately the group began to concoct lies and try to cover up the incident to investigators. Because the victim was an Army special forces soldier, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division began the query but after conflicting stories and other information raised more questions the case was turned over to Naval Criminal Investigation Service since the four charged service members were under the Department of the Navy.
No information was publicly released in the early months of the investigation. Media reports revealed initial accounts of what happened months after the June 2017 incident.
During his plea hearing in May, Matthews made an emotional admission of guilt and apologized to Melgar’s wife and family.
“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 …”
Melgar’s wife, Michelle Melgar, and his mother, Nitza Melgar, both made statements during the same hearing.
NItza gave Matthews little reprieve for his plea.
“Logan was asleep,” Nitza said. “He was attacked and minutes later was dead.”
“You, sir, are a murderer,” she said. “Logan’s blood will never wash off of you.”
But Michelle reflected on the loving time she shared with her husband before his death before recalling how she knew that the original story put out by the defendants, that her husband had died in a training accident while the group was doing martial arts work, wasn’t true.
“I just wanted the truth,” Michelle said.
“Adam, thank you for finally coming forward with some of the truth about what led to his death,” she said. “I’m sad you made such reckless choices that led to the end of your career and my husband’s death.”
“I care not how much time you do or do not sit in a prison cell,” she said. “Only that you are never again in a position to hurt other service members and no longer wear the Trident that so many others are honored to wear.”
But Michelle’s statement was made before it was publicly revealed that Matthews had approached the grieving widow under a pseudonym at a Las Vegas party trying to learn more about what she knew regarding her husband’s death and the SEAL’s involvement, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Matthews’ attorney, Grover Baxley, acknowledged to the Post that the incident had occurred but stressed there was no romantic involvement and the meeting was “unintentional.”
The men were all in Mali as part of a mission to train local forces and identify sources of funding and weapons for terrorist groups in the region.
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.