By BEN FINLEY, Associated Press
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) – A member of an elite group of US Marines has been convicted of manslaughter and related charges for his role in the unexplained death of an American Green Beret while the men were serving in Africa, the US Navy said in a press release on Friday.
But the artillery sergeant. Mario Madera-Rodriguez was found not guilty of murder. He still faces a possible maximum sentence of 27.5 years in prison as well as demotion and a dishonorable discharge.
A jury of U.S. Navy sailors and Marines delivered their verdict Thursday night at a Navy base in Norfolk, Va., Following a weeks-long trial that has raised the curtain on allegations of misconduct in the US special operations community.
Madera-Rodriguez belongs to a special operations group of the Marines known as the Raiders. The prosecutor said he, another Raider and two Navy SEALs conspired to humiliate Army Green Beret Logan Melgar in 2017.
The men were angry at the affronts perceived during their time together in the country of Mali, prosecutors said. In particular, some were upset that they missed a party at the French Embassy in the capital Bamako because Melgar and the others broke up in traffic.
Their plan was to break into Melgar’s room, tie him up and suffocate him until he passed out while filming their prank on the phone, prosecutors said. Melgar died of strangulation.
A defense lawyer for Madera-Rodriguez had argued that he played a minor role in the hazing and should not be convicted of murder and other crimes.
The lawyer said Madera-Rodriguez never touched Melgar until he tried to help resuscitate him. He said the role of the Marine was only to smash Melgar’s door with a hammer, play music and bring in Malian guards who were part of the joke.
Lawyers for Madera-Rodriguez also said military prosecutors misapplied the law on the murder charge. They said he can only be convicted of murder if found guilty of burglary, a charge tied to the charge that the men broke into Melgar’s room. They said the burglary charge hinged on the alleged crime occurring at night, which they said was no longer at the time of the hazing.
“You don’t have a night, you don’t have a burglary,” Lt. Col. Timothy Kuhn argued on behalf of Madera-Rodriguez. “You don’t have a burglary, you don’t have criminal murder.”
Prosecutors argued that Madera-Rodriguez was guilty because he chose to participate in the hazing, despite the known risks of placing someone in a strangulation.
Madera-Rodriguez is the last of the four soldiers to face a court martial. He was also the only one to plead not guilty.
SEAL Tony DeDolph, who had enforced the strangulation, pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His lawyer said he planned to appeal the sanction.
Adam Matthews, the other SEAL, and Marine Kevin Maxwell Jr., made plea deals and were given shorter terms in a military prison.
The prosecution documents do not indicate why the soldiers were in Mali. But US special forces have been in Africa to support and train local troops in their fight against extremists.
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