Military court throws out sentence for Navy SEAL convicted in the death of Green Beret
Stars and Stripes November 18, 2022
A military appeals court this week threw out the sentence for a Navy SEAL convicted last year of involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy charges in the 2017 death of a Green Beret who he choked during a drunken hazing incident in Mali.
The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals vacated the January 2021 sentence for Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph of 10 years imprisonment, reduction in rank to E-1 and a dishonorable discharge for his role in the death of Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, according to a court opinion published Tuesday. Prosecutors failed to disclose to DeDolph’s attorneys that one of their key witnesses — a Marine Raider also convicted for his role in Melgar’s death — had asked the Navy to reduce his sentence after testifying against the SEAL, Marine Col. Peter Houtz, a military judge, wrote in the appellate court’s decision.
The court ordered DeDolph must receive a new sentencing hearing in the case.
Houtz ruled defense attorneys were unable to question the full motives of the witness — former Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell — in front of the jury that decided DeDolph’s fate without the knowledge of the clemency request. Maxwell, after he was convicted, asked the Navy to reduce his prison sentence and asked that a final decision be delayed until he had completed the requirements under his plea deal, which included testifying against DeDolph, according to court documents.
“We find that that there is a reasonable possibility that the outcome of the trial would have been affected by the disclosure of the clemency request,” Houtz wrote, adding Maxwell might have been motivated “to exaggerate his testimony” against the SEAL in hopes his sentence would be reduced.
DeDolph, a decorated former member of the elite SEAL Team 6, pleaded guilty to his role in Melgar’s death and elected to face sentencing by a military jury. The Navy must now reassign DeDolph’s case to a new top Navy officer — known as a convening authority — who can then order a new sentencing trial.
DeDolph was one of four special operators convicted for roles in Melgar’s death while they were deployed to Mali. The other troops — Maxwell, another Marine Raider and another member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team 6 — fingered DeDolph as the ringleader of a hazing plan concocted during a night of drinking in the African country’s capital Bamako.
The group ultimately broke into Melgar’s room with a sledgehammer, planning to render him unconscious, tie him up and video a Malian man committing a sexual act on the soldier, according to testimony by Maxwell and others. DeDolph admitted to placing Melgar in the chokeholds meant to render him unconscious, but from which the Green Beret never recovered.
DeDolph pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit assault and obstruct justice, violation of a lawful general order, involuntary manslaughter, and obstruction of justice. He had initially faced murder charges in the case.
Before DeDolph faced sentencing last year, Maxwell and the other Navy SEAL pleaded guilty to reduced charges and were sentenced for their roles in Melgar’s death. Former Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Adam Matthews received a one-year prison sentence and a reduction in rank to E-5 in May 2019. The next month, Maxwell was sentenced to four years in prison and a rank reduction to E-1. The fourth individual convicted in the case, former Marine Raider Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez was sentenced to six months in prison and a rank reduction to E-1 in July 2021.
Maxwell’s prison sentence was ultimately cut to three years by the Navy convening authority, according to court documents. Houtz wrote Maxwell had sought to have his sentence reduced to two years. The judge identified Maxwell in his opinion as “Pvt. Marshall” because of a Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals policy to identify publicly witnesses and victims in cases by pseudonym.
Houtz asserted Navy prosecutors erred in failing to disclose the full terms of Maxwell’s plea agreement and, in doing so, it could harm the public's perception that DeDolph received a fair trial.