In the end, it was one man unburdening himself of a 19-year-old secret that led to the conviction of another.
On Tuesday, Jon A. Lang, 55, pleaded no contest to a count of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three to six years in prison for death of his wife, Debbie, 34, who drowned in the pool of their Patterson home two decades ago.
Beaver County Common Pleas Judge Richard Mancini had scheduled at least a week for the trial, more than half the jury had been selected and at least one witness was on his way there when Lang stood before the court in a suit and restraints for what turned out to be a plea and sentencing hearing.
"There are no winners in this case," Judge Mancini said.
"Obviously a family was ruined many years ago."
Lang, of Industry, was charged with criminal homicide in November 2012 after Jamie Darlington, 36, came forward, telling investigators he saw Lang hold down his wife with a long-handled pool skimmer and push her away from the edge on June 18, 1993. Mr. Darlington was facing charges in California at the time he came forward.
Mr. Darlington had been a guest at the Lang house for a party, where there was drinking and drug use, he testified last year. A coroner's inquest followed, and a jury decided the act was criminal.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Mr. Darlington said he felt relieved to learn the case was closed. "That was the last thing that I ever had in my life that hadn't been resolved," he said.
Mr. Darlington said last year that he finally shared his recollections with authorities to clear his conscience following the birth of his son.
Lang's attorney, William Difenderfer, said he had a "very, very strong defense," but that the offer "was a hard thing to turn down."
"We spent a lot of time agonizing over this decision," he said during the hearing.
Assistant district attorney Richard Absey, who was scheduled to try the case with Ronald Digiorno, told the judge their iteration of what happened on June 18, 1993. Mr. Difenderfer responded, taking issue with a few points, but said Lang was intoxicated that night and would not contest the facts.
"The reason why he took it was because of the sentence," not the charge, he said.
By accepting the plea, which does not acknowledge guilt, Lang avoided trial and a possible life sentence. Given that risk, he may have perceived the offer to be a good deal, said John Burkoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who hadn't reviewed the case but spoke generally. "The prosecution and the defense reached an agreement where both sides got something and both sides gave something up," he said.
District Attorney Anthony Berosh said some members of Debbie Lang's family were not satisfied with the result. "Our feeling is based on the facts that we had, the plea was justified," he said.
Debbie Lang's family could not be reached.
The Lang case marked the second of two cold cases tried in Beaver County this fall. A jury last month convicted former Bridgewater councilman Gregory Scott Hopkins of third-degree murder in the 1979 death of Catherine Janet Walsh.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede. First Published December 10, 2013 12:03 PM