NORFOLK, Va. — A Marine commando pleaded guilty on Thursday to negligent homicide charges in the 2017 death of a Green Beret soldier in Mali, describing how he helped duct-tape the wrists and feet of the victim, who was choked in a hazing incident.
The commando, Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell Jr., told a military court that the attack on Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar, 34, had “started out as a hypothetical joke” among Special Operations forces who were out drinking in Bamako, the Malian capital.
Hours later, four American commandos broke into Sergeant Melgar’s bedroom, wrestled him to his bed and twice put him in a “blood choke” — causing him to pass out at least once, Sergeant Maxwell testified.
The joke had progressed to “yes, we’re going to do this,” Sergeant Maxwell said in court. During two hours on the stand, he said he had become friends with Sergeant Melgar.
“I was willing to hurt that relationship with him because I was too weak to stand up for him and say, ‘I won’t do this.’ I was trying to fit in with this group,” Sergeant Maxwell said. Addressing Sergeant Melgar’s family members, he added: “I’m a terrible man. I’m a terrible friend. I’m a terrible guy. I betrayed an American. I betrayed my friend.”
His testimony hewed closely to that of another American service member who admitted last month to taking part in the hazing, and who had also said that Chief Petty Officer Tony E. DeDolph, a member of the Navy SEALs and former professional mixed martial arts fighter, had put Sergeant Melgar in the chokeholds.
A military medical examiner has ruled that Sergeant Melgar’s death was a “homicide by asphyxiation,” or strangulation.
The highly unusual case of the fratricidal killing has cast a spotlight on little-known military missions in Africa. Chief DeDolph and another member of the SEALs who has pleaded guilty in the case, Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews, were in Mali for a secret counterterrorism mission in the impoverished West African nation.
Sergeant Maxwell also admitted to lying to investigators about the predawn killing on June 4, 2017. He described it as an accidental death that occurred after the commandos decided to punish Sergeant Melgar for going to a party at the French Embassy in Bamako without taking fellow troops.
Sergeant Maxwell testified that the commandos asked permission to “remediate,” or haze, Sergeant Melgar from a supervisor, Sgt. First Class James Morris. He said Sergeant Morris approved the request.
In his testimony last month, Chief Matthews said it was not clear if the supervisor understood what he had authorized before he went back to sleep.
Sergeant Maxwell said the four commandos were accompanied by an unidentified British officer and two unidentified Malian civilian guards who helped break into Sergeant Melgar’s bedroom. He said the British officer recorded the assault on his phone.
After failing to resuscitate Sergeant Melgar, the four American commandos agreed to a cover-up plan to protect the two Marines who participated in the hazing, Sergeant Maxwell testified. The other Marine who is charged in the killing is Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez.
Neither Sergeant Madera-Rodriguez nor Chief DeDolph has been called to testify in front of the military court.
The court heard testimony from eight witnesses — three for the government, five for the defense. Marine Col. Glen Hines, the military judge, was expected to sentence Sergeant Maxwell on Friday. The government asked for a five-year sentence, while the defense requested months.