Army Contractor Pleads Guilty in Detainee Shooting
Wednesday, February 4, 2009; 5:27 PM
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- An Army contractor is facing up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the shooting death of a handcuffed Taliban member in Afghanistan who had just set one of the contractor's colleagues on fire.
Don M. Ayala, 46, of New Orleans, struck a plea bargain Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, avoiding murder charges that could have resulted in life in prison.
Ayala provided security on what the Army calls a Human Terrain Team, in which social scientists and anthropologists are embedded with combat brigades to help soldiers understand local culture.
On Nov. 4, Ayala and two other team members were on a walking patrol about 80 miles west of Kandahar, in a village called Chehel Gazi. Team member Paula Loyd was distributing candy to villagers and talking about gas prices with an Afghan man, Abdul Salam, when he lit a pitcher of fuel on fire and threw it on her.
According to court documents, Ayala helped arrest and subdue Salam, who was then placed in plastic restraints. Ayala kept a pistol pointed at Salam's head as he continued to resist arrest.
After a few minutes, when Ayala learned how badly Loyd had been burned, Ayala shot Salam in the head, killing him instantly.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Loyd, 36, who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body and died from her injuries two months later at an Army hospital in San Antonio.
Ayala's case had been the first case in which federal prosecutors brought murder charges against a military contractor serving in Iraq or Afghanistan under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, the 2000 law that allows such prosecutions.
Ayala was employed by Strategic Analysis, Inc., an Arlington company working as a subcontractor for BAE Systems, which has its U.S. headquarters in Rockville, Md.
Strategic Analysis did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
Ayala had previously worked for contractors providing personal security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Ayala is scheduled for sentencing on May 8.