A former judge advocate general and expert in military law in the Texas Tech University School of Law is available to speak to the media regarding the investigation and trial process going forward.
Logan Melgar, a U.S. Army Green Beret and native of Lubbock who graduated from Frenship High School in 2001, died this summer and his death is under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). The autopsy report on Melgar, a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant deployed as part of a group supporting the U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali, lists his death as a homicide after the medical examiner determined he died by strangulation. Two members of the U.S. Navy's SEAL Team 6 are the focus of the NCIS investigation.
While the investigation continues, if it is determined there is enough evidence to charge the two sailors, the case will be tried by a General Court Martial. But there are subtle differences between the process to get to a General Court Martial and a non-military jury trial. Walter Huffman, a former judge advocate general and expert in military law in the Texas Tech University School of Law, is available to speak to the media regarding the investigation and trial process going forward.
- When the NCIS investigation is complete, if the investigators find credible evidence that a murder has been committed, and they can identify a person or persons the evidence links to the crime, NCIS will provide its investigation to the Navy commander who has Special Court-Martial jurisdiction over the subjects. Generally, this is the senior officer who commands the unit to which the subjects are assigned.
- If the commander agrees the investigation contains credible evidence of a crime and the person or persons who committed that crime, he or she will formally charge the suspects and refer those charges to a Preliminary Hearing Officer (PHO). The PHO is normally a judge advocate in the grade of lieutenant commander (O-4) or commander (O-5).
- Some have compared the preliminary hearing to a civilian grand jury, but there are significant differences. Perhaps most important, unlike a grand jury proceeding, the accused may be present at the preliminary hearing and may attempt to establish their innocence by calling witnesses and presenting evidence.
- At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, if the PHO is convinced there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and the accused committed that crime, he or she will recommend to the commander of the accused service members that they be tried by some level of court-martial. If the commander exercising Special Court-Martial authority believes the crime should be tried by the highest level of court martial – a General Court-Martial – he or she will forward the charges and recommendation to the General Court-Martial Convening Authority (GCMCA), normally the first admiral in the chain of command.
- If the GCMCA, after consultation with their senior Judge Advocate, agrees the sailors charged should be tried by General Court-Martial for the charged offense, he or she will convene a General Court-Martial. That court-martial, following rules of evidence and procedure that, for the most part, mirror the rules used in civilian federal district courts, will determine guilt or innocence using the "beyond a reasonable doubt” criminal law standard of proof. If there is a finding of guilty, the court-martial will sentence the accused in accordance with the table of punishments in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. On a charge of murder, the maximum sentence is death.
- "Military felony criminal investigations are similar to civilian criminal investigations in many respects, but the military procedures provide more opportunities for a person accused to argue their innocence.”
- "Although the victim in this case is an Army soldier, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) will handle the investigation because the persons of interest who are the subjects of the investigation are Navy Seals.”