Jurors to Determine Punishment in 2003 Murder of a Virginia Volunteer Firefighter

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Jurors who convicted a former University of Virginia student of voluntary manslaughter were to consider his punishment in the November 2003 stabbing death of a volunteer firefighter.

Andrew R. Alston faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the slaying of Walter Sisk.

Jurors, who could have found Alston guilty of second-degree murder, were to begin deliberations Wednesday in the trial's penalty phase. He would have faced a 40-year sentence on the second-degree murder count.

The prosecution and defense did not disagree substantially on the events that led to Sisk's death: A night of drinking and verbal altercation led to the deadly confrontation.

Alston, 22, testified that he pulled a knife on Sisk because he feared for his life. But Sisk grabbed the knife out of his hand, Alston testified Tuesday, and he then grabbed Sisk's arm and pushed back repeatedly as they struggled.

``I knew that if I let go he was going to kill me, so I just held on,'' Alston said. ``I held on until he went down.''

Sisk, who was 22, was stabbed 18 times in the arms, shoulders, side and back, according to an autopsy report.

Jurors returned their verdict after 5 1/2 hours of deliberations Tuesday.

Defense lawyers on Monday presented a witness, an expert in aikido, who said he had taught Alston the martial art in 2002. Defense lawyers argued Alston used that method of self-defense to turn the knife back on Sisk.

Alston, from Gwynedd, Pa., was a third-year student at the time of Sisk's death.

Sisk's family was in the courtroom Tuesday as were numerous members of the Seminole Volunteer Fire Department. Sisk, from Free Union in Albemarle County and a 1999 graduate of Western Albemarle High School, had served with the department.