"My Friend Has Been Killed": Witnesses Describe Events Involved In SEAL Manslaughter Trial
Alun Pugh remembered the moment he tried to push back on the hazing plan that would result in Staff Sergeant Logan Melgar's death. But someone in this group of Marines and Navy SEALs dismissed his concerns.
"Why do you have to choke him out?" Pugh asked. "That's stupid."
"No, no, we do this to each other all the time." That's the answer someone gave him. The person mentioned that choking people out was part of their training.
Pugh relayed this story in court to investigators, who played a recording of the interview this week in the trial of Navy Chief Special Operator Tony DeDolph. DeDolph pleaded guilty to charges including hazing, involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy in the incident. He now faces more than 22 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. This week a jury of eight Navy personnel will hear the testimony of witnesses in the case to determine DeDolph's sentence.
Pugh didn't say who exactly told him about the hazing ritual, saying several times that he couldn't recall events during that evening. He and the rest of the group went from bar to bar in the capital of Mali and talked about how they would get even with Melgar for ditching their friends to attend a party.
But Pugh said he was surprised that the men seemed to be taking this "ridiculous" prank seriously. He told investigators it was dawning on him that they were actually going to do what they'd discussed -- break into Melgar's bedroom, grab him, choke him out, immobilize him with duct tape and video him with his pants around his ankles to humiliate him.
"I've never been around people who choke each other out for fun," Pugh told investigators. Prosecutors played the recorded testimony for members of the jury, who sat quietly in the courtroom, masked and separated from each other by plexiglass, as his version of the story unfolded.
The British man stopped several times, overcome with emotion. He was a friend of the U.S. military group in Mali, a guest at parties at their quarters. And that day in June 2017 he was in a crowd of people that included DeDolph and the other men who would be charged in the incident, as they went bar-hopping through establishments with names like Appaloosa and the Sleeping Camel in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
"I didn't think they'd actually go through with it," Pugh said. "I thought they were joking."
He said he began to worry about his own involvement. But he continued with the men as they collected duct tape and a sledgehammer and drove to Melgar's living quarters with Pugh in the trunk of their car.
Outside Melgar's door, the group divided up roles. Someone would break through the door, others would tape Melgar's arms and legs and DeDolph would choke him out with a maneuver DeDolph identified last week as a rear naked chokehold. Someone asked Pugh to help pin Melgar down. Pugh said he refused, and he was handed a phone to record the incident instead.
However, as soon as the men broke into the room, Pugh said he left.
"I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible," he said. He also said he was worried Melgar would know he was part of the hazing.
"Logan's my friend," Pugh said. "I didn't want him to see me."
Pugh walked back to his own home, only a few hundred yards away, and went to sleep.
Soon, two of the men from the group, "Kevin" and "Mario," he said, were waking him up. (Authorities sentenced Marine Private Kevin Maxwell to prison for four years for his role in Melgar's death. Gunnery Sergeant Mario Madera-Rodriguez has been charged with crimes including conspiracy, felony murder and involuntary manslaughter in the crime, but his trial is scheduled for February 1. Another Navy SEAL was sentenced in 2019.)
He immediately thought that Logan Melgar was going to press charges against all of them for the incident, he told investigators.
"Logan's dead," one of them told him. They revealed the coverup plan to him, to tell authorities that DeDolph had had an impromptu wrestling match with Melgar, and an accident had killed him.
"My friend had been killed and two of the guys involved were in my bedroom," he recounted. He said he worried the men, all American military personnel, would conspire to make him seem like the ringleader. He was concerned that they may have even stolen an item or a bit of his hair from his bedroom to plant at the scene of the crime.
"They all had something in common, and they could just blame the foreign guy," he said. Pugh said he felt pressured to keep quiet about details of the incident.
He asked the men about the phone which he'd left at the scene. They told him they'd thrown it in the river. A day earlier in court Maxwell testified that he'd deleted video of the incident, took out the phone's memory card and burned it.
Maxwell also recounted the same basic hazing plan that Pugh had described. DeDolph himself confessed to the plan too.
Media reports have said that the accused planned to video Melgar being sexually assaulted. Prosectors and defense attorneys argued in court about how many of the details of this part of the plan witnesses could reveal to the jury. A prosecutor asked Maxwell in front of the jury whether the plan involved humiliating and demeaning Logan Melgar, and Maxwell agreed.
More witnesses are expected in the sentencing phase, and the trial is scheduled to last through Friday.