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ARLINGTON, Va. — A civilian contractor working for an Army Human Terrain Team has pleaded guilty in the shooting of an Afghan man who set one of his teammates on fire.

Don Michael Ayala faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, according to a news release from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

He is free on bond pending sentencing, which is scheduled for May 8, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

On Nov. 4, Ayala was on a patrol about 50 miles west of Kandahar when a man named Abdul Salam lit a container of flammable liquid and threw it on another team member, Paula Loyd.

According to court documents, Ayala forced Salam to the ground, where Salam was handcuffed and restrained.

Shortly afterward, Ayala learned Loyd had been burned badly.

"Ayala pushed his pistol against Salam’s head and shot Salam, killing him instantly," according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Loyd, who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 56 percent of her body, died Jan. 7 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Ayala was originally charged with second-degree murder. His attorney declined to comment Wednesday morning.

Loyd is the third Army Human Terrain Team member to have died in the line of duty.

Michael Bhatia, a social scientist, was killed in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan in May. Nicole Suveges, who held a Ph.D. in political science, was killed the next month when a council meeting in Sadr City was bombed.


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