Chief Special Warfare Operator Adam C. Matthews faced a murder charge in the death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, and was wearing a Rambo costume at the time, according to the documents, which were obtained by The Washington Post. They were verified with three people familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
The encounter adds a new layer of strangeness to the death of Melgar, a member of 3rd Special Forces Group who had deployed to Afghanistan.
It also raises questions about the amount of freedom the Navy provided to Matthews, a member of the elite SEAL Team 6 who received a one-year prison sentence in May after becoming the first service member charged who was willing to testify against others involved.
Melgar was strangled June 4, 2017, after a group of men that had been out drinking burst into his room in the Malian capital of Bamako with a sledgehammer with plans to choke him unconscious, bind him with duct tape and record of a video of a Malian man sexually molesting him as part of a hazing plot, according to testimony by a Marine Raider convicted in the case.
Four U.S. Special Operations troops were charged with murder, including Matthews and Chief Special Warfare Operator Anthony DeDolph, a fellow member of SEAL Team 6. Matthews and the Marine, Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell, have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, while DeDolph and another Marine, Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, still face trial.
The January encounter between Matthews and Melgar’s wife, Michelle, occurred at a charity party hosted by Crye Precision, a company that makes military apparel and tactical gear, according to Naval Criminal Investigative Service documents detailing the incident. The event was affiliated with the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, a popular gun exposition.
An attorney for Matthews, Grover Baxley, acknowledged the encounter in an email to The Post on Tuesday. He said his client and Michelle Melgar “unintentionally met briefly” at a SHOT Show event, and that it was an “innocent coincidence with zero romantic intent by either individual.”
Baxley added that Matthews and Melgar discussed their meeting with each other after his court-martial, and neither bears any ill will.
“I have discussed this situation at length with the prosecution, and I do not anticipate any disciplinary action being taken against SOC Matthews for this unintentional meeting,” Baxley said.
But other people familiar with the encounter describe Matthews’s intentions differently.
Matthews, using the pseudonym “Mike,” approached Melgar in costume, chatted her up, danced with her and exchanged phone numbers with her without revealing who he was, witnesses told an NCIS investigator, according to the documents. She had been invited to SHOT Show as a representative of the Special Forces Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to the families of Special Operations troops in need.
The witnesses, interviewed this spring, described Matthews as attempting to be “cozy” and “flirtatious” toward Melgar, but without any physical contact or kissing. A few of them said Matthews asked to go to her room with her, but she was not interested.
One of the witnesses, an active-duty soldier with a Silver Star for valor, said that Matthews told Melgar that if she knew the real story about what happened in Mali, she would have compassion for the SEALs. Their lives were being ruined, the witness recalled him saying.
The Post is withholding the names of the individuals interviewed because several of them appear to be active-duty Special Operations troops.
The news was first reported by the Daily Beast on Tuesday, citing an anonymous friend of Melgar’s and text messages sent between the widow and the SEAL. The Post obtained documents detailing the incident last week, and reached out unsuccessfully through intermediaries several times to Melgar to discuss the SHOT Show interaction. Through friends, she declined to do so.
Baxley said that Matthews was using a pseudonym because “none of these special warfare operators give their real first names when they meet a stranger.”
Baxley, asked about the witness statements detailing the encounter, questioned where The Post got the documents and said that some individuals interviewed told investigators that they saw Matthews attempt to extricate himself from the situation as soon as he became aware of who Melgar was.
“The government is aware of and has reviewed the entire investigation, not just the pieces of it that can be salaciously interpreted,” Baxley said.
One witness provided to investigators by Matthews’s defense team said that Matthews talked to Melgar for 45 minutes to an hour, and that Matthews was “shocked” when he learned that he was speaking with the widow. The witness said there was no other interaction between them, and did not mention any follow-up text messages by Matthews.
A Navy spokeswoman, Beth Baker, said it is the military’s practice to not comment on open investigations. Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock, the senior officer overseeing the cases, is open to considering recommendations for clemency and input from victims in the case, she said. That review is open and ongoing, and may remain so until the cases for the other two service members charged in Logan Melgar’s case are heard, Baker said.