Trial begins for Marine accused in soldier’s hazing death

NORFOLK, Va. – To hear a military prosecutor tell it, U.S. Marine Mario Madera-Rodriguez was tasked with smashing open the bedroom door of a U.S. Army Green Beret with a sledge hammer and then turning on some music.

Another Marine was supposed to remove the Green Beret’s mosquito netting from around his bed, the prosecutor said. A Navy SEAL would choke the Green Beret into unconsciousness, while a second SEAL would tie him up with duct tape.

“Their plan was to haze him that night, to humiliate him,” Marine prosecutor Jason Samuel said Friday at the start of Madera-Rodriguez’s murder trial at a U.S. Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia. “But they killed him.”

The Green Beret, Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a native of Lubbock, Texas, died of strangulation. Madera-Rodriguez is one of four American servicemembers charged in Melgar’s 2017 hazing death in Africa, where the men were serving together.

Madera-Rodriguez, who belongs to a special operations group in the Marines known as the Raiders, is the only one of the four men to plead not guilty. The others have already made plea deals and may testify at his trial.

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By fighting the charges, Madera-Rodriguez has prompted what could be a weekslong court-martial that will dissect a night in which prosecutors say some of America’s most elite servicemembers betrayed one of their own.

Capt. Samuel, the Marine prosecutor, said the men were angry over Melgar’s perceived slights during their time in Mali. In particular, some were upset that they missed a party at the French embassy in the capital city of Bamako because Melgar and the others got separated in traffic.

Their plan to teach Melgar a lesson grew as some of the angry servicemen retreated to a bar, then a club and then a shawarma restaurant, Samuel said.

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