NEWS- Bye bye, Botetourt: Release of Sisk killer nears

The former UVA student who stabbed Albemarle firefighter Walker Sisk to death will be released from prison June 21, according to the Department of Corrections. By then, convicted killer Andrew Alston will have served nearly all of his three-year punishment. And Alston has now indicated that he intends to appeal his probation.

Alston has court approval to transfer his probation from Virginia to Pennsylvania, according to David Clementson, spokesman for the Attorney General's office, which will handle the appeal. Alston's family lives in Lower Gwynedd, near Philadelphia.

Under the conditions of probation, for three years Alston must abstain from alcohol consumption, cooperate with mental health and substance abuse treatments, and work– or pursue educational programs full time, according to Clementson.

The appeals court rejected Alston's appeal of his voluntary manslaughter conviction. But the court agreed to hear his probation appeal, probably this fall.

The Sisks were dumbfounded when a Charlottesville jury sentenced their son's killer to three years in jail– despite stabbing Sisk 18 times in a drunken fight– after the prosecution had sought 40 years for a second-degree murder verdict.

And when they got a letter from the Attorney General's office informing them of Alston's probation appeal, "I was ready to go ballistic," says Howard Sisk. "It's ridiculous– I've run out of words to describe it."

Eighteen months after Alston stood trial and wound up with a three-year sentence for his conviction of voluntary manslaughter, Sisk still wonders, "What the hell was that jury thinking?"

One of the jurors wrote an account of the trial explaining that because of the amount of alcohol Alston had consumed, the jury could not find that he acted with malice when he killed Walker Sisk with 18 stab wounds and then fled the scene.

The trial included a tearful Alston recalling a painful childhood that included the suicide of his brother and an audacious defense (allegedly discounted by jurors) that Sisk somehow stabbed himself, a defense that was stymied by the fact that the knife somehow disappeared from the scene.

Howard Sisk remembers one juror saying that he thought they did what was best for the community. "Since when does a jury decide that?" asks Sisk, who says he would have preferred the jurors focus on the guilt or innocence of the accused.

The grieving parents likely will meet Alston in court again. They plan to sue him as soon as he steps out of Botetourt Correctional Facility in rural Troutville.

"We've been waiting for his release before moving forward," says Brian Slaughter, attorney for the Sisks, who has readied a $3-million suit to "deter any such violent attacks upon innocent victims."

For Jimmy Schwab, Sisk's best friend who was with him the night he died, Alston's release is in some ways harder than the trial. "I wish the family and I could have had a little better closure to losing someone we love," he says.

The lives of the Alstons and Sisks became inextricably intertwined after a boozy chance encounter on the Corner left 22-year-old Walker Sisk bleeding to death November 8, 2003.

Alston's father, attorney and Lower Gwynedd town supervisor Robert Alston, was on his way to Charlottesville even before his son was arrested that morning. Alston senior had come to the rescue of his son before.

A few months earlier, when Andrew was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, Robert Alston appeared within hours of the boy's arrest and persuaded the girlfriend to sign an affidavit acknowledging that she'd fabricated the incident.

Is Alston's family happy the former biology student, who's been in jail since 2003, will be returned home? Robert Alston did not return a phone call, and Andrew Alston had not responded by press time to a written request for an interview.

There's no anticipation of a homecoming in the Sisk household. "We're the grieving parents of a dead child," says Howard Sisk. "You don't get over it; you get through it. There's not a day that I don't think about him."

Convicted killer Andrew Alston's father, Robert Alston, serves on the town council in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, where the former UVA student will go when he finishes his three-year sentence for the slaying of a local firefighter.


Former UVA biology student Andrew Alston, on his way to court in 2004 for his trial for stabbing Walker Sisk to death.