1993 drowning, second cold case trial in Beaver County, to start

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The trial for an Industry man accused of killing his wife two decades ago is scheduled to begin this week, marking the second cold case to be tried this fall in Beaver County.

Jon Lang, 55, is charged with criminal homicide in the death of Debbie Lang, then 34. Prosecutors charge that he drowned her on June 18, 1993, by holding her underwater with a long-handled pool skimmer in the pool of their Patterson home.

Opening statements are expected to begin Tuesday at the Beaver County Courthouse, and Common Pleas Judge Richard Mancini has set aside at least a week to hear the case. Twelve jurors and two alternates are to be selected today.

Two assistant district attorneys for Beaver County, including Richard Absey, will try the case. Attorney William Difenderfer will represent Mr. Lang, who has maintained his innocence.

Prosecutors are hoping for another guilty verdict in the second of back-to-back cold case trials. A jury last month convicted former Bridgewater councilman Gregory Scott Hopkins of third-degree murder in the 1979 death of Catherine Janet Walsh.

"Obviously, we're trying to bring resolution to a question that's been open for a long period of time," Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh said of the Lang case.

The district attorney's office filed charges against Mr. Lang in November 2012 after one man came forward as a witness earlier that year, prompting a coroner's inquest, in which a jury decided the death was a criminal act. Debbie Lang's manner of death in 1993 was ruled undetermined.

That man, Jamie Darlington, 36, told investigators he saw Mr. Lang assault his wife and use the skimmer to force her under the water and away from the pool's edge.

Mr. Darlington, who was 16 at the time, was at the Lang home that day for a cookout, where there was drinking and drug use, he testified at Mr. Lang's preliminary hearing.

For nearly 20 years, he said, he didn't tell anyone what he saw and came forward to clear his conscience following the birth of his son. During those years, he was convicted and jailed on various charges in Beaver County and in California.

From the start, Mr. Difenderfer has questioned Mr. Darlington's credibility, saying his accusations arose when he was facing jail time and that he likely was trying to make a deal with prosecutors.

Online court documents show Mr. Lang has a criminal record and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault by vehicle while under the influence in 2004 and to multiple misdemeanor drug charges.

Mr. Darlington declined to be interviewed for this article. But in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shortly after Mr. Lang was charged, Mr. Darlington said his knowledge of what happened to Debbie Lang "was too much to carry."

"I wanted to be able to be a father to my son and be able to be stable myself," he said then. "And in order to do that, I need to clear everything from inside myself."

Mr. Darlington, who also is the father of a teenage girl, said in that interview that he was a troubled teen who "emotionally and mentally shut myself off" after the Debbie Lang's death.

The defense plans to call forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht among its witnesses. Dr. Wecht testified last month for the prosecution in the Hopkins case.

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.

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