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1st guilty plea in attack that killed Loudoun man, injured wife

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 8:55 PM

The attack on William and Cynthia Bennett, a Lansdowne couple who were viciously assaulted while taking an early morning walk in March 2009, sent chills through their upscale Loudoun County community as residents struggled to comprehend the random brutality.

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On Wednesday, a 19-year-old Loudoun man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the fatal beating of William Bennett, 57.

Jaime Ayala also pleaded guilty to aggravated malicious wounding in the assault on Cynthia Bennett, 55, who spent months receiving intensive treatment at a hospital.

Ayala, an admitted member of the 18th Street gang, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on the charges when he is sentenced Aug. 24.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the prosecution can refile first-degree murder and other charges against Ayala if he does not provide cooperation and testimony in the investigation and prosecution of two other people believed to be involved in the crime.

Loudoun County Circuit Court Chief Judge James H. Chamblin cautioned Ayala that he will serve time in prison.

He added that the sealed proffer of evidence - the document outlining the commonwealth's case against Ayala - was "more than sufficient for a conviction."

Relatives of the Bennetts, including their two adult daughters, attended the hearing. Their expressions were somber, and they showed little emotion as Ayala entered his guilty plea.

The Bennetts were retired from the Army. William Bennett had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and worked as a CIA contractor for years. Cynthia Bennett worked as director of procurement for the architect of the Capitol. The couple were avid hikers and had been out for a walk March 22, 2009, when they were attacked on a popular roadway.

Residents of Lansdowne held vigils and walks in the days between the attack and the arrests.

Loudoun Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney James P. Fisher said the family was aware of the agreement between Ayala and the prosecution and voiced no objection.

"They are fully in support of this," Fisher told Chamblin. When Chamblin asked whether the family wished to address the court, both daughters emphatically shook their heads 'No.'

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