The Navy SEAL who admitted to choking a Special Forces soldier to death in 2017 has agreed to plead guilty, according to his attorney.
Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph was formally charged with another SEAL and two special operations Marines in November 2018 with felony murder, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, burglary, hazing, and involuntary manslaughter in the strangulation death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a Special Forces soldier assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group.
Sources familiar with the plea deal say DeDolph will plead guilty on January 14 to involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, and hazing. The prosecution will dismiss felony murder and burglary in exchange for the guilty plea. Sources say DeDolph also agreed to a provision that bars him from profiting from the case in any way, including writing books or earning a living based on his experience at SEAL Team 6.
“This agreement will end the contested charges, allowing SOC [Special Operations Chief] DeDolph to accept responsibility for those offenses he can and mitigate most of the concerns over classified material present in the case,” Phil Stackhouse, DeDolph's civilian attorney, said in a statement. “We believe what is intended by a person’s actions is eminently important and the agreement recognizes that SOC DeDolph never intended to injure Logan Melgar, but also recognizes the fact that Melgar died as a result of actions that went tragically wrong on June 4, 2017.”
Stackhouse said while Melgar’s “death was not intentional,” it doesn’t diminish the grief felt by his friends and family. Stackhouse said the guilty plea is an attempt to help Melgar’s family “find closure and peace.”
The Daily Beast left a voicemail at a number allegedly belonging to DeDolph, but the call was not returned by press time. Melgar’s widow, Michelle, declined to comment.
A hearing is scheduled for January 14 in Norfolk, Va., where DeDolph will be required to convince a military judge of his guilt. After the hearing, DeDolph will be sentenced by a jury, according to sources.
DeDolph is the third of four defendants to plead guilty in the case. Only Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, a Marine Raider, is still awaiting trial. DeDolph’s plea agreement closes one of the last chapters in a case that has seen one of the NCIS investigators get pulled off the case after allegedly engaging in a romantic relationship with a witness and an accused SEAL's hit on Melgar’s widow at a Las Vegas gun show. The Navy even promoted DeDolph four months after he admitted to choking the Green Beret to death.
DeDolph was part of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as Seal Team 6. He and Melgar were part of an intelligence operation in Mali supporting counterterrorism efforts against al Qaeda’s local affiliate, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in 2017.
Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews, who was in Mali doing an assessment of the mission there, testified in August 2019 he felt it was his duty to haze Melgar—on DeDolph’s recommendation—to teach him a lesson after Melgar “ditched” the team in Mali’s capital city of Bamako on his way to a party at the French embassy.
DeDolph, Matthews, and two Marine Raiders—Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez and Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell—spent the rest of the night plotting to choke Melgar into unconsciousness, pull his pants down and videotape the incident and then show it to him later to embarrass him.
The four men—after getting permission from Sergeant First Class James Morris, Melgar’s supervisor—broke down Melgar’s door and attacked him. During the melee, Melgar became unresponsive. Matthews and DeDolph tried to resuscitate Melgar with CPR and opened a hole in his throat. The SEALS with Morris then rushed Melgar to a French medical facility, where he was pronounced dead. At the clinic, DeDolph admitted to an embassy official he choked Melgar, according to NBC News and subsequent reports.
A medical examiner’s report, based on a June 8, 2017 autopsy at Dover Air Force Base, concluded Melgar’s cause of death was asphyxiation and the manner of death was homicide, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Maxwell and Matthews have already pleaded guilty in exchange for plea agreements with prosecutors. Matthews, 33, pleaded guilty to hazing and assault charges and attempts to cover up what happened to Melgar. He was sentenced in May 2019 to one year in military prison. Maxwell, 29, was sentenced to four years of confinement after pleading guilty in connection with Melgar’s death in June 2019.
Madera-Rodriguez is the last of the four men who carried out the attack to stand trial. He is expected to face a court-martial in February and has no plans to plead guilty, said his civilian attorney Colby Vokey.