A U.S. Navy SEAL has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the hazing death of a U.S. Army Green Beret while the men served together in Africa. The SEAL's attorney said he plans to appeal the punishment.
Tony DeDolph received the sentence Saturday from a jury of fellow servicemembers at a Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, the Navy said in a statement Monday. He had pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and related counts Jan. 14.
DeDolph had placed Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar into a martial-arts-style chokehold to try to make him temporarily lose consciousness during what the SEAL said was a prank. Melgar died of strangulation.
DeDolph is one of four service members — two SEALs and two Marines — to be charged in Melgar's 2017 death in the African country of Mali. Charging documents do not state why the service members were there. But U.S. Special Forces have been in Africa to support and train local troops in their fight against extremists.
DeDolph testified during his court-martial that they were trying to get back at Melgar for perceived slights. The other SEAL, Adam Matthews, testified in 2019 that the perceived slights included an incident in which Melgar was driving his motorcycle to a party at a diplomatic embassy in the capital city of Bamako. Two Marines were following in another vehicle before Melgar drove off, Matthews said. Matthews suggested that the Marines felt Melgar had abandoned them in an unsafe city that’s been the target of terrorist activity.
The service members plotted to get Melgar back with an elaborate prank known as as a “tape job,” DeDolph testified earlier this month. The prank included binding Melgar with duct tape, applying the choke hold to temporarily knock him out and then showing Melgar a video of the incident sometime later.
The case has pulled back the curtain on misconduct among some of America’s most elite service members, while offering a brief window into how some have addressed grievances outside the law.
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DeDolph is a member of the elite SEAL Team 6. Besides the prison time, his sentence strips him of his pay and his rank of chief petty officer. He'll also receive a dishonorable discharge. The punishment still must receive official approval from an admiral.
DeDolph had faced a maximum sentence of 22 1/2 years in prison.
DeDolph's attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, told The Associated Press in an email that the sentence will be appealed.
Stackhouse also expressed concerns about the length of the jury’s deliberations, which he believes were not long enough to reasonably take a full measure of DeDolph’s accomplishments as a SEAL and as a person.
Stackhouse said there were well over 100 pages of character statements as well as evaluations from superiors and classified documents that detailed DeDolph’s heroism in combat. DeDolph was shot in the shoulder “and stayed in a firefight for another hour and a half and then stayed with his team to finish the deployment,” Stackhouse said.
“I wish people could see what the jury had access to review,” Stackhouse said. “On multiple occasions, his actions and heroism and that of three or four other guys with him are going to have a lasting impact on our country. And nobody is going to know what he did.”
Matthews, the other SEAL, and Marine Kevin Maxwell Jr. have already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were sentenced to shorter terms in military prison. Another Marine, Mario Madera-Rodriguez, is scheduled for court-martial in April.