HOLLIDAYSBURG - Petitions filed a week ago by a life prisoner seeking his release from the State Correctional Institution at Graterford have been dismissed without hearing by Blair County Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle.
Doyle, in an opinion filed in Blair County late Tuesday, characterized the request by William Paul Saltsman, 47, as "frivolous" and stated it was not supported by law.
"The current petitions [from Saltsman] are not properly brought under any statute and do not ask for appropriate relief," Doyle concluded.
Saltsman last week, acting as his own attorney, contended that he had completed his sentence for the killing of a gas station attendant, Robert J. Garlick, 21, in 1987 and that his release on bail should be forthcoming.
This perplexed Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, who said he did not understand Saltsman's arguments.
Doyle revealed in her opinion that Saltsman, almost from the time he was sentenced 27 years ago, has contended that he didn't understand that the sentence of life actually meant life.
In citing the record of the Saltsman case, Doyle pointed out that almost immediately after his pleas on April 10, 1987, to murder in the first degree, robbery, kidnapping, carrying a firearm without a license and possession of an instrument of crime, Saltsman filed a petition to withdraw his guilty plea.
That June 8, 1987, petition to withdraw resulted in a presentence investigation and a psychiatric evaluation.
Doyle said the court determined Saltsman was competent to stand trial, and on Oct. 22, 1987, former Judge R. Bruce Brumbaugh, based on the two investigations, denied Saltsman's request to withdraw his guilty pleas.
Doyle stated that Saltsman was sentenced for "heinous crimes" on Oct. 29, 1987.
The sentence was life plus 12-25 years.
Saltsman then appealed to the higher courts. His initial appeals came to a conclusion on Nov. 10, 1993, when the state Supreme Court denied further hearing.
He then filed two post-conviction petitions, claiming his attorney was "ineffective for failing to advise him of the ramifications of his sentence: that his life sentence in fact meant 'for life,'" Doyle reported.
That appeal also went all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused a hearing on Oct. 3, 1995.
"His claim that he did not understand that life imprisonment was for life without the possibility of parole was specifically rejected by the court. All his avenues of appeal were explored and exhausted," Doyle found.
Saltsman, now 47, was arrested for the February 1987 robbery of Reighard's gas station in Altoona. He kidnapped the attendant and took him several blocks at gunpoint, then killed him, all because he felt the attendant might have recognized him.
The attorney who prosecuted the charges against Saltsman said last week the prosecution agreed to a life sentence with the idea he would never be freed from prison.
Saltsman's attorney, former Blair County Judge Norman D. Callan, said the defense agreed to the plea bargain to save Saltsman from the death penalty.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.