Alston loses probation appeal

By Rob Seal, The Daily Progress – November 3, 2007

The Virginia Supreme Court has denied the appeal of a former University of Virginia student who maintained he should not have been placed on probation after serving three years in prison for stabbing an area firefighter to death.

Andrew R. Alston was a third-year UVa student in November 2003 when he stabbed 22-year-old Walker A. Sisk 18 times after an argument at the intersection of Wertland and 14th streets in Charlottesville. The two men had not previously known each other.

Though initially charged with murder, Alston was convicted of voluntary manslaughter on Nov. 9, 2004, after a jury found he did not act with malice. He was sentenced to three years in prison and has since been released to serve three years of supervised probation.

After his conviction, Alston filed an appeal, maintaining the probation violated his constitutional rights and constituted an abuse of judicial discretion.

An appeals court denied his claim, and it was passed on to the state supreme court, which ruled Friday that Alston had no grounds for such an appeal.

In a 22-page decision, Justice G. Steven Agee said Alston’s arguments that post-release supervision violated his constitutional rights were without merit.

L. Steven Emmert, a Virginia Beach appellate attorney who closely monitors the state supreme court, said Alston’s appeal centered around his belief that the judge considered evidence he shouldn’t have when imposing the probation. Such appeals have become routine in recent years, he said.

“It’s very common now,” Emmert said. “This is a 21st-century doctrine, basically. This is brand new case law.”

Alston, who was released from prison June 21, 2006, is facing a $3 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Sisk’s parents. That lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in federal court in March.

Sisk, a well-liked firefighter and medical technician with the Seminole Trail Volunteer Fire Department, was hanging out with friends on the Corner the night of his death.

Around 2 a.m., he and his friends crossed paths with Alston, who was also out with a group that night. Witnesses later said that the two men shouted insults at each other.

Some witnesses at the trial said the attack was unprovoked, but Alston testified that he was scared of Sisk and stabbed him in self-defense.