Marine Raider pleads guilty to negligent homicide, other charges in Green Beret’s death in Africa
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 6, 2019
NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. – Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr., one of four special operators charged in the 2017 strangling death of a Green Beret in Africa, pleaded guilty Thursday to negligent homicide, admitting his role in a plot to embarrass the soldier.
Maxwell accepted a plea deal from prosecutors to avoid more serious charges, including murder, in the June 4, 2017 death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar. Maxwell, an Afghanistan war veteran who has served more than a decade in uniform, is the second servicemember to plead guilty to charges in Melgar’s death, which they described as the result of a juvenile hazing attempt gone bad.
“We created a plan and acted out that plan — a ridiculous and harmful, abusive trick … [designed] to humiliate Melgar,” Maxwell told the military judge, Marine Col. Glen Hines.
Maxwell agreed to plead guilty to charges of negligent homicide, conspiracy, hazing, burglary, obstruction of justice and making false official statements. Negligent homicide is the lowest charge of criminal homicide within military law, but it carries a maximum penalty that includes three years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Hines will sentence Maxwell after hearing testimony during a sentencing trial expected to begin Thursday afternoon.
The first servicemember to plead guilty in Melgar’s death, Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Adam Matthews received one year in prison, a two-grade reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge on May 16 after striking a deal with prosecutors to avoid more serious punishment. He pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired to commit an assault and battery, unlawful entry and obstructed justice by lying to investigators about who was involved in Melgar’s death.
As part of his plea deal, Matthews agreed to testify in courts-martial against the other special operators charged in Melgar’s death. It was not immediately clear what stipulations Maxwell agreed to in his deal. Those details can only be revealed publicly after the judge determines his sentence.
The one-year sentence in Matthews’ case was the maximum time the judge could impose because his case was conducted in a lower-level special court-martial. Maxwell faces a felony-level general court-martial.
In addition to Maxwell and Matthews, Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph and Marine Raider Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez face charges in Melgar’s death. DeDolph and Madera-Rodriguez face murder charges and have yet to make court appearances in the case, according to the Navy.
Maxwell’s testimony Thursday morning largely matched Matthews’ testimony.
In court last month, Matthews said the four special operators hatched a “juvenile” plan over late night dinner and drinks in the Malian capitol of Bamako in retaliation for perceived slights to the Marines by Melgar and over poor performance issues that they claimed the Grenn Beret displayed in Africa. With a sledgehammer, the four broke into Melgar’s room with the intention of duct-taping his hands and feet and videotaping him, which was meant to embarrass him, Matthews said.
But when Melgar was placed in a headlock by DeDolph, the Green Beret lost consciousness, Matthews said. He was declared dead at a hospital later that day.
Maxwell said the entire incident lasted only minutes. He described the group, which included the four charged special operators and a British national and two local Malian security guards, as rehearsing the act before Madera-Rodriguez broke through Melgar’s door with the sledgehammer.
Maxwell and Matthews said the group received permission from Melgar’s supervisor before carrying out the hazing act.
The Washington Post on Wednesday reported, citing leaked court documents, that the group also planned for one of the Malian security guards to commit a sexual assault on Melgar while he was unconscious. Those details were not discussed in court Thursday morning.
Maxwell and Matthews admitted in court that they obstructed justice, explaining the group coordinated a false narrative fed to commanders and investigators in an attempt to clear the two Marines and avoid serious charges.
The group told officials probing Melgar’s death that the Green Beret had gone into shock while wrestling with Matthews and DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter. The four told investigators the two Marines were not in the room when Melgar lost consciousness.
The two SEALs “wanted to make sure there was no responsibility for [the two Marines] for the death of Logan,” Maxwell said. “They wanted to face probably just some negligence charges for Matthews and DeDolph.”