40 years in prison: York County man seeks commutation of life sentence

Ron Musselman
York Dispatch
Robert E. Altland, 60, is incarcerated at SCI Phoenix in Collegeville, Pa., where he is serving a life sentence without parole.

A York County man who has served 40 years in prison for his role in a 1979 murder is among the 15 people who will have life-commutation requests heard Friday by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Robert E. Altland, 60, has had two previous application requests denied, Fetterman spokeswoman Christina Kauffman said Monday.

Altland is incarcerated at SCI Phoenix in Collegeville,  Montgomery County, where he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

According to court documents, Altland and Bruce Silar robbed co-worker John Zink, 23, on March 8, 1979, after leaving their workplace at Cole Steel and driving to Hellam Township.

Police said Altland drove Silar and Zink there to buy drugs and gas.

Altland later pulled over to use the bathroom, grabbed a gun and shot Zink four times, according to an official.

After taking $550 from Zink, Altland and Silar weighted his body with a heavy chain and left it in a nearby creek.

Altland was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury on July 20, 1979.

Silar, 60, was found not guilty of five counts, including criminal homicide and first-degree murder, by a jury Nov. 3, 1980, but he was found guilty of second-degree murder and robbery. He received a life sentence and is being housed at SCI Camp Hill.

Fetterman chairs the five-person board that hears requests for clemency — pardons and commutations. Those not in prison are eligible for a pardon, while those in prison can request a reduction of sentence through commutation.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The spelling of Bruce Silar's name was updated as well as the charges against him on Wednesday, Dec.18.