The court ruled that prosecutors failed to disclose that a U.S. Marine, identified in court papers as “Pvt. Marshall, who testified against the Navy SEAL, Tony DeDolph, had taken part in the hazing and asked for clemency in exchange for his testimony. As a result of the failure to disclose this information, defense attorneys missed an opportunity to question the witness about a “potential motive to misrepresent events.”
The ruling comes nearly two years after DeDolph was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The hazing occurred in 2017 during the men’s service in Mali. Although there was no explanation in the charging documents as to why the men were stationed there, special forces units are known to be involved in training local fighters against terrorists and extremists in Africa.
The hazing occurred against Texas native Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar. DeDolph, from Wisconsin, was a member of SEAL Team 6, an elite unit of the Navy SEALS, and was one of four military members charged in Melgar’s death.
According to DeDolph’s testimony, the hazing was to get back at Melgar for several perceived offenses, including causing them to miss a party at the French Embassy due to getting separated in traffic.
A prank was devised in which DeDolph and the other men would duct tape Melgar, knock him out temporarily with a chokehold, and then video the incident to show him later.
“I effectively applied the chokehold as I have done numerous times in training,” DeDolph said during his testimony. He said when the “rear naked choke,” which restricts blood flow in the neck, is applied, a person normally loses consciousness in about 10 seconds and then wakes back up after about 30 seconds. “Usually by that time, the individual has gotten up,” DeDolph said. “And he did not.”
DeDolph ultimately pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and hazing, among other charges.
His attorneys knew that the Marine testifying against him had already pleaded guilty but did not know that he had negotiated for clemency. The Marine’s sentence was reduced from four years to three.
“The fact that (the Marine) sought additional clemency. . .in exchange for his testimony is clearly information that tended to demonstrate (his) bias, and bore on his credibility,” the appeals court wrote.
The appeals court noted, “There is a reasonable possibility that the outcome of the trial would have been affected by the disclosure of the clemency request.”
The court agreed that depriving DeDolph of a “meaningful opportunity to cross-examine a key Government witness when the Government did not disclose that the witness was requesting additional clemency from the convening authority” was an error, set aside DeDolph’s sentence, and ordered a new sentencing hearing.