NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY/AP) — A Navy SEAL who was charged in the 2017 death of a U.S. Army Green Beret will spend 12 months in confinement and receive a bad conduct discharge after formally taking a plea deal.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Adam Matthews received his sentence following a full day special court martial hearing on Thursday. The jurisdictional limit in a special court martial is one year in prison.
Charging documents describe a situation in which some of the nation’s most elite military personnel — including two members of the famed SEAL Team Six — broke into Melgar’s bedroom while he was sleeping, bound him with duct tape and put him into a choke hold.
As a part of the deal, Matthews pleaded guilty to charges of hazing, unlawful entry, conspiracy to commit assault and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The prosecution wanted Matthews to be reduced in pay grade from E7 to E1, face one year in prison and receive a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.
The judge ultimately only reduced his pay rank from E7 to E5, a difference of about $15,000. In addition he made a recommendation to the convening authority, in this case Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock, to review the bad conduct discharge by considering Matthews’ cooperation in the cases against the other three defendants and on the Melgar family feelings.
In his closing arguments, Matthews’ defense attorney Christian Reismeier urged the military judge to drop the bad conduct discharge. “My client shouldn’t lose everything over one day in his 16-year career.”
Matthews said in court Thursday what he, the other Navy SEAL and the two Marines did to Melgar was a ritual called “taping” — which he said is a means of hazing people in the special warfare community.
He admitted to using duct tape to secure Melgar‘s ankles and hands while the other SEAL, Anthony DeDolph, applied the fatal chokehold. Matthews also admitted to obstructing justice by trying to cover for the two Marines.
The government is dismissing the remaining charges against Matthews, including murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Melgar’s mother Nitsa Melgar took the stand Thursday afternoon and called Matthews a trained assassin who knew what he was doing.
“Logan’s blood is on your hands, and it will never wash away,“ she said. “You are a disgrace to your Purple Heart.”
Matthews had 16 years in with the Navy, and eight combat tours. He has shrapnel in his leg from an engagement near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Others testified on Matthews’ behalf. Childhood friend Robert Egan told the court Matthews has “integrity beyond reproach,” and said he is a “good person who made horrendous and horrific mistakes.”
Matthews himself testified last. He apologized to the Melgar family, the special forces community at large, his unit and his own family.
“There’s no justification for this tragic and avoidable death,” he said. “This was my fault. I accept responsibility.”
Matthews had just arrived in Bamako, Mali, 36 hours before Melgar’s death and did not know Melgar, who had arrived in the West African country four months earlier.
Melgar was a native of Lubbock, Texas, who had deployed to Afghanistan twice before his death. He was an Engineer Sergeant in the Green Berets who led by example, according to fellow service members who testified Thursday.
CW2 Kevin Strupkus described how Melgar led a team that was clearing a route in Afghanistan in 2015 of IEDs, uncovering potentially deadly traps for fellow soldiers.
The two Marine Raiders also facing charges in Melgar’s death, GSGT Mario Madera-Rodriguez and SSGT Kevin Maxwell, were also part of Special Operations Command.
A Navy spokeswoman says the next court martial in the case could be as soon as next month, but it’s unclear for which of three remaining defendants.
The SEALs belong to the Navy Special Warfare Development Group. The unit is better known as SEAL Team 6, which participated in the May 2011 raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at his compound.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.