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Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph, left, a member of the elite SEAL Team 6, reached an agreement with the Navy to plead guilty to several charges in the June 4, 2017, death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, right, his lawyer said.
Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph, left, a member of the elite SEAL Team 6, reached an agreement with the Navy to plead guilty to several charges in the June 4, 2017, death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, right, his lawyer said. ()

The Navy SEAL accused of choking an Army Green Beret to death while they were deployed to Mali in 2017 will plead guilty later this month to his role in the killing, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph, a member of the elite SEAL Team 6, reached an agreement with the Navy to plead guilty to several charges in the June 4, 2017, death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar and “accept responsibility” for his actions, his civilian attorney Phillip Stackhouse wrote in an email. DeDolph is expected to enter his guilty plea Jan. 14 during a hearing at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

He will become the third of four defendants in the case to plead guilty for his role in what others involved in Melgar’s killing have described in court as a booze-fueled hazing incident gone wrong. Like the other two special operators who pleaded guilty in 2019 — former Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews and former Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr. — Stackhouse maintained DeDolph never intended to injure Melgar.

“The fact that [Staff Sgt.] Melgar’s death was not intentional may not lessen the righteous feelings of grief by family and friends, but perhaps the resolution of this case will further help them find closure and peace,” Stackhouse said Tuesday.

The Navy in November 2018 charged DeDolph, Matthews, Maxwell, and another Marine Raider, Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, with a series of crimes including felony murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, hazing and burglary for their roles in Melgar’s death.

Stackhouse said he would not reveal the charges to which DeDolph will plead guilty. The Daily Beast, citing unnamed officials familiar with the agreement, reported the SEAL is expected to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice and hazing.

The attorney said DeDolph agreed as part of the plea deal not to profit from “publication or dissemination of information,” such as a book deal while he is imprisoned, should he be sentenced to confinement. Stackhouse also said DeDolph had no plans to write a book or profit from his time as a SEAL.

DeDolph first enlisted in the Navy in 2003 and had been assigned to SEAL Team 6 since 2008, according to Navy records.

In previous court testimony, others involved in the case fingered DeDolph as the primary instigator of a hazing plan launched during a night of binge drinking at bars in Mali’s capital Bamako.

Maxwell in June 2019 testified DeDolph and another SEAL regularly bullied Melgar, a member of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group, while they were sharing a house in Bamako during deployments in support of counterterrorism operations in the West African nation. DeDolph — who Maxwell described as employing a sense of “dark humor” — hatched a hazing plan over drinks meant to embarrass Melgar for a perceived slight against another special operator.

Maxwell, who described himself as Melgar’s friend, testified DeDolph came up with a “ridiculous, over-the-top idea” to remediate Melgar and was egged on as the group of mostly American special operators laughed at DeDolph’s plans.

“It seemed to me at first that it was like a joke, but as the night progressed the reality of what we were going to do steeped in,” Maxwell testified. “Everyone thought it was funny.

“No one stepped in. No one was saying, ‘Stop. No. This isn’t right’,” he added.

The special operators in the early morning hours busted through Melgar’s bedroom door with a sledgehammer, secured his arms and legs with duct tape while DeDolph, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, placed him in temporary unconsciousness with a chokehold. A British expatriate who tagged along with the Americans — along with two Malian security guards — filmed the incident with his phone, Maxwell and Matthews testified.

Maxwell also testified the plan was to culminate in a “sexual molestation” of Melgar captured on video. But that never occurred.

Instead, Melgar went into shock after DeDolph placed him into a chokehold for a second time. The group performed CPR and, eventually, an emergency tracheotomy before rushing Melgar to a local clinic where he was pronounced dead, Maxwell testified.

Maxwell, who was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to reduced charges, told Melgar’s widow, Michelle, from the witness stand that he did not live up to his own expectations for himself in allowing the others to proceed with the hazing plan against his friend.

“Logan would have stopped them from doing that to me. I know that for a fact,” Maxwell said during his sentencing trial. “… I betrayed a friend of mine, a fellow American. I betrayed his future.”

Matthews received a one-year prison sentence for his guilty plea to reduced charges. Like DeDolph, Matthews was a member of SEAL Team 6, officially the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. He testified during his sentencing trial in May 2019 that he was visiting Mali to observe operations there and had met Melgar only one day prior to the Green Beret’s death.

“Words cannot express how deeply I regret those events and how remorseful I am,” Matthews testified. “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.”

Madera-Rodriguez is expected to go to trial on the original charges in February.

Those who served with Melgar, who was 34 when he died, described him as a fast-rising leader within Army Special Forces who had proven himself in combat in Afghanistan. Melgar joined the Army in 2012 and arrived about one year later at 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was serving as an engineering sergeant.

“He was very mature for a young Special Forces soldier. He was very professional and [quickly] took over leadership responsibilities, ousting other engineering sergeants,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin Strupkus, who commanded Melgar in Afghanistan, testified in 2019. “I would say the type of meticulousness, professionalism, candor and excitement Logan brought were extremely rare, even among elite operators. Third Group lost a phenomenal operator.”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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