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NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A U.S. Navy SEAL was sentenced to one year in military prison on Thursday for his role in the 2017 hazing-related death of a U.S. Army Green Beret in Africa.
Adam Matthews is the first of four U.S. service members to face military court proceedings as well as punishment for the strangulation death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a Texas native.
Matthews was sentenced by a military judge at a Navy base in Norfolk, Virginia, following a plea agreement he made the same day. Prosecutors dropped a murder charge in exchange for his testimony against another Navy SEAL and two Marines.
"I've carried the weight of Staff Sgt. Melgar's death every minute of every day since that night in Mali," Matthews said.
The emotionally charged, daylong court proceedings provided a window into the lives of some of the country's most elite service members. Family, friends and colleagues of both Melgar and Matthews took stock of the contributions of each man and the fallout from that night.
Matthews also offered the first detailed public account of Melgar's death, which he described as a botched attempt to "embarrass" him over "slights" perceived by the other men.
Matthews said he joined the group in Mali's capital of Bamako only 36 hours before the incident in June 2017. He said colleagues quickly filled him in on their concerns about Melgar.
Among the perceived slights was an incident in which Melgar was driving his motorcycle to a party at a diplomatic embassy in the capital city. Two Marines were following in another vehicle before Melgar drove off, Matthews said.
Matthews suggested that the Marines felt Melgar had abandoned them in an unsafe city that's been the target of terrorist activity.
Sometime later, Matthews said that he and the others broke down Melgar's bedroom door with a sledgehammer for "dramatic effect." Then they bound his wrists and ankles with duct tape.
They planned to record the incident on video to embarrass Melgar in what Matthews described as a "known remediation," or hazing ritual, within the special forces community.
At some point, Matthews said, the other Navy SEAL applied a chokehold to Melgar, who became unresponsive and was unable to be resuscitated.
"I am truly sorry," Matthews told the court.
Matthews, 33, pleaded guilty to hazing and assault charges as well as attempts to cover up the crime.
During the sentencing phase, friends and family described Matthews as that "100-pound kid who wanted to be a Navy SEAL that nobody thought could be."
Matthews displayed a picture of the Twin Towers at his home and suffered injuries in Afghanistan, earning a Purple Heart, among other medals.
Melgar was fearless and "unflappable" under enemy fire, his colleagues said. He was meticulous when it came to his job, which included finding explosives in Afghanistan at night while bullets struck the trees above him.
His wife, Michelle Melgar, testified that her husband told her about the "immature" SEALs that he was having trouble with. She also thanked Matthews for coming forward with the truth.
Melgar's mother, Nitza Melgar, was less forgiving. She told Matthews: "You are a disgrace to your Purple Heart."
Matthews still faces the possibility of receiving a military discharge for bad conduct, which could lead to a loss in veteran's benefits.
Judge Capt. Michael Luken said the type of discharge will be left up to an admiral. It will also be contingent on Matthews' continued cooperation and input from the Melgar family, the judge said.
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