Navy SEAL Team 6 member sentenced to a year in prison for his role in death of Green Beret
By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 16, 2019
NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. — Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Adam Matthews will spend the next year in a military prison after pleading guilty Thursday for his actions in the 2017 strangulation death of a Green Beret in Mali.
In admitting his guilt, Matthews described a botched attempt to haze Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar alongside three other special operators serving in the Malian capital city of Bamako in the early morning of June 4, 2017. Matthews described the plan hatched at a local restaurant over late night drinks and food as “juvenile,” as he and the others conspired to break into Melgar’s private room with a sledgehammer, restrain him with duct tape and film him in order to “embarrass him.” Melgar’s death was the result of a chokehold by Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph, according to prosecutors.
Matthews, 33, told the judge overseeing his court-martial, Navy Capt. Michael J. Luken, that Melgar’s death was “tragic, but completely unintended.” He accepted a deal from prosecutors to avoid murder charges during a court-martial at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., agreeing to plead 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.
Matthews told Luken that the group had not intended to kill Melgar, but they wanted to “remediate” him for perceived performance issues and a “slight” from the previous night, accusing him of abandoning two Marines in an area of Bamako with which they were unfamiliar.
“Words cannot express how deeply I regret those events and how remorseful I am,” Matthews said. “The Navy expected me to be a leader. I am tormented by my complacency at a time when my teammates required my guidance and the situation required bold, corrective action.”
Following an all-day hearing, Luken determined Matthews — who has served with the Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team 6, since 2005 — would spend a year in prison for his involvement in the death of Melgar.
With the shoulders of his service dress blue uniform slumping, Matthews stared straight forward as the judge announced his sentence to the courtroom. Luken also sentenced Matthews to a two-grade reduction in rank to petty officer 2nd class and a bad conduct discharge. The yearlong prison sentence was the maximum confinement time that Matthews faced as part of his plea deal with prosecutors.
Matthews is the first of four special operators who will face a judge in Melgar’s death. As part of his plea agreement, Matthews agreed to testify in the cases against the other accused servicemembers in Melgar’s death — DeDolph and Marine Raiders Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez and Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr.
Those cases have yet to go to trial and they face similar charges to Matthews, including murder.
Witnesses called to testify Thursday by prosecutors described a poor climate among the small group of special operators stationed in Bamako. Family members and others who served with Melgar testified the Special Forces soldier struggled to get along with the Navy SEALs and Marine Raiders who he worked near since his arrival in Mali in early February 2017.
Melgar’s widow, Michelle Melgar, told the judge as soon as she learned of his death — just hours after the two had spoken on the phone — she immediately suspected the SEALs were to blame, even as Army officials told her that he died of an illness, an assertion that was later disproven.
“He told me [the SEALs] were immature — doing immature things,” Michelle Melgar said.
She indicated DeDolph was one of the men with whom her husband struggled. Matthews, who had only arrived in Mali one day before Melgar’s death, had only met the Green Beret for about 30 minutes before entering his residence to haze him, he said.
Soldiers who served with Melgar described him as a driven and mature soldier who stood out even among the elite in the Special Forces, challenging the SEALs assertions that Melgar was performing inadequately.
“Staff Sgt. Melgar was somebody the Army definitely needed to retain,” testified his Special Forces detachment commander, a chief warrant officer 2 who was not identified by name for security reasons. “He was [going to be] a leader in the future.”
Melgar, his commander said, was a battle-proven man of high character, who during a deployment in Afghanistan would lead dangerous missions to search for roadside bombs on foot from the very front, often taking enemy machine gun fire as he doggedly poured over the terrain for signs of hidden explosives.
“He was our hero,” Michelle Melgar testified.
SEALs who served alongside Matthews offered a similar assertion about the 16-year veteran of the Navy, whose service includes eight combat tours that have resulted in four valor awards, including two Bronze Star Medals with combat “V” and a Purple Heart.
A SEAL who served in Afghanistan with Matthews, whose name also was not released due to security concerns, described his battlefield heroics in a firefight. Another SEAL testified Matthews was well known in the SEAL community as one of the best performing warriors in the elite units.
“Chief Matthews is a hero,” said retired Rear Adm. Christian Reismeier, Matthews’ civilian attorney.
Reismeier asked Luken for leniency for one “horrific mistake” in a long career otherwise characterized by exemplary service.
Matthews said he was “truly sorry,” apologizing to members of Melgar’s family in attendance at the court-martial.
While Michelle Melgar told Matthews that she forgave him for his role in the her husband’s death, Melgar’s mother, Nitza Melgar, said she wished he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“You, sir, are a murderer,” she said. “I personally wish you were going to prison for the rest of your life. You are a disgrace to your Purple Heart. May God have mercy on you.”