The court-martial of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez in the choking death of a Green Beret during an alleged attempted hazing and sexual assault began at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, on Monday.
Madera-Rodriguez, a Marine Raider, faces multiple charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including felony murder and involuntary manslaughter, for his alleged part in the June 4, 2017, death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar during a deployment in Bamako, Mali.
He is also charged with conspiracy to commit assault, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, burglary, hazing and making false official statements, according to the charge sheet in the case provided by the Navy.
Madera-Rodriguez's case is the last to be decided of the four special operations troops accused of involvement in Melgar's death. If convicted of felony murder, he could be sentenced to serve the rest of his life behind bars, without possibility of parole, as well as a reduction in rank to E-1, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and either a dishonorable or a bad conduct discharge.
The Navy said in a release Friday that the court-martial, which is scheduled to last three weeks, would begin with jury selection Monday. Madera-Rodriguez chose to be tried by a panel of eight service members, the service added.
The Washington Post in 2019 reported that a Marine Raider, Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell, admitted to being involved in the plot to haze and humiliate Melgar that resulted in his death.
The Post reported that Maxwell said in a written statement to authorities that he and three other special operations troops, including Madera-Rodriguez, planned to break into Melgar's bedroom with a sledgehammer at about 5 a.m., choke him into unconsciousness, and tie him up. A Malian security guard would then sexually assault Melgar, with a British man videotaping the assault on a cell phone, Maxwell said. The plot was reportedly hatched after a night of heavy drinking.
However, when Chief Special Warfare Operator Anthony Dedolph, a Navy SEAL, bound Melgar with duct tape and put him in a chokehold, he accidentally strangled Melgar to death.
Dedolph, a member of SEAL Team Six, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice and hazing Jan. 14, and was sentenced to 10 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge.
Maxwell and another SEAL, Chief Special Warfare Officer Adam Matthews, also previously pleaded guilty to charges connected to Melgar's death.
The charge sheet in Madera-Rodriguez's case accuses him of committing felony murder "while perpetrating a burglary ... by restraining SSG Logan Melgar during the assault where SSG Melgar was strangled and killed."
It also accuses Madera-Rodriguez of committing involuntary manslaughter "by culpable negligence," by restraining Melgar during the assault.
As part of their conspiracy to assault Melgar, the four special operators drove to the Marine quarters to get duct tape and then to the quarters shared by Army and Navy service members, according to the charge sheet. They broke through Melgar's locked door, physically restrained him and bound him with duct tape, and then strangled him by placing him in a chokehold, the charge sheet adds.
In the months following Melgar's death, Madera-Rodriguez allegedly conspired with the three other special operators to cover their actions up and commit obstruction of justice, according to the charge sheet. To hamstring the investigation, the charge sheet adds, they allegedly gave the Navy chain of command a false timeline of events, shared information with each other about what they had told investigators, and gave statements that purposely left out the use of duct tape and the presence of Marines in the room during the assault.
They also allegedly disposed of the alcohol that was kept in the Army and Navy quarters, and made false statements to investigators from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command and the Navy Criminal Investigation Service, the charge sheet states.
Madera-Rodriguez is accused of lying to a CID agent by falsely saying the four troops did not plan to go out with Melgar that night, and by falsely claiming that he and Maxwell remained outside the shared Army and Navy quarters while the two SEALs went inside.
The charge sheet states that Madera-Rodriguez lied when he told an investigator that he saw Melgar and Dedolph talk to each other, chuckle and smile at the door to Melgar's residence, and then "mutually initiate" wrestling at the door. He also falsely claimed that he didn't enter Melgar's quarters until Matthews told him to, it adds.