A Navy SEAL charged with murder in the strangulation death of an Army Green Beret staff sergeant while both were deployed in Africa has pleaded not guilty to charges in his arraignment today.
Special Warfare Operator Chief Tony E. DeDolph was arraigned on charges of conspiracy, assault, obstruction of justice, burglary, involuntary manslaughter, hazing and felony murder, according to court records.
DeDolph and three other servicemembers — a fellow SEAL and two Marine Raiders, including Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez — were initially charged in the June 4, 2017 death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Bamako, Mali, where the men were on a counterterrorism deployment.
Madera-Rodriguez, who was arraigned on charges late last year, and DeDolph both face separate trials this spring.
DeDolph’s attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, told Military Times Jan. 10 that the government had denied his client’s requests for expert witnesses, which included a criminologist, DNA analyst and forensic pathologist. But the judge in the trial granted those expert requests.
Stackhouse has two decades of experience in military criminal cases. He said that the government denying expert witnesses does happen but not in serious cases.
“And this is a serious case,” he added.
Stackhouse reiterated earlier statements he has made on his client’s behalf, noting, “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."
He called Melgar’s death a “tragic accident” that has since “snowballed into an injustice” due to how it has been handled.
But he added that the case has also been burdened by “sloppy handling” by investigators and “overcharging recommended by prosecutors.”
Stackhouse sought unsuccessfully Jan. 10 to have the felony murder charge dismissed.
The other two co-defendants, Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell and Navy SEAL Adam C. Matthews, both pleaded guilty to lesser charges in 2019.
Maxwell was sentenced to four years in prison for negligent homicide, hazing and making false official statements. Matthews received one year’s confinement and a bad conduct discharge.
In court in May 2019, Matthews provided a firsthand account of the events that led up to Melgar’s death.
The four men planned to break into Melgar’s room, hold him down and duct tape him, then video record him in a sexually embarrassing scenario to retaliate for perceived slights Melgar made towards them in the days leading up to the incident.
The men concocted the illegal hazing plan during a night of drinking and barhopping in Bamako, Mali. Earlier that night, Melgar had snubbed some of the group when he drove by them on the way to an embassy party.
Around 5 a.m., the quartet burst into Melgar’s room with a sledgehammer. DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial artist, locked Melgar in a choke hold.
The other three men restrained the staff sergeant and began tying him up with duct tape. Melgar stopped breathing during the attack.
They began to perform CPR, and when that failed, a field-expedient tracheotomy. They took him to a medical clinic where he was pronounced dead.
The two SEALs told the Marines they would keep them out of it and initially lied to investigators, first claiming that Melgar was drunk and they were doing “combatives” training in the early morning hours in their offsite residence.
DeDolph’s trial is scheduled for March 23 to April 3. Madera-Rodriguez’ trial is scheduled for April 20 to May 1.
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.