Inmate in California offers details to 1993 slaying in Beaver County; arrest is made
For nearly 20 years, questions haunted police and a Beaver County neighborhood as to how Debbie Lang drowned in the murky water of a pool behind her Patterson Township home.
Police said they always suspected her husband, Jon A. Lang, was involved in his wife's 1993 death, but they didn't have the evidence to charge him. Forensic pathologist Dr. James Smith ruled that while Debbie Lang, 34, had drowned, he could not determine whether it was accidental or intentional.
In February, Jamie Darlington — a former Beaver County resident, then an inmate at the Alameda County jail in California — reached out to authorities there about the Lang case. He had been undergoing treatment for cancer. Two Beaver County detectives flew to California to hear his story.
In 1993, Darlington was 16 and a friend of the Langs. He told police who were investigating her death that he had found her in the pool, investigators said.
“Everything he told me was the truth, but he just didn't take it to the finish,” said William Livingston, who was Patterson Township's assistant police chief.
During the February prison meeting with Beaver County detectives, Darlington told detectives that he saw Lang assault and drown his wife, Beaver County District Attorney Anthony J. Berosh said.
“Prosecutors have to give the jury a good story as to why Darlington waited so long and why they should believe him now,” University of Pittsburgh professor of law John M. Burkoff said Friday.
Darlington last week said he didn't want to talk about the case, and that his cancer “isn't relevant to the story.”
On Nov. 9, Patterson Township police charged Lang, 54, with homicide, one day after Beaver County detectives presented their findings to a Beaver County coroner's jury. It ruled that Debbie Lang's death was criminal negligence.
“I wasn't surprised,” said Marie Hoskar of Patterson Township, the Langs' former neighbor. “We all thought (Lang) did it. He always acted crazy.”
Lang remains in the Beaver County Jail awaiting a hearing on the homicide charge.
Defense attorney Bill Difenderfer said many factors, including that Darlington was in jail when he talked to investigators and that Debbie Lang was drunk at the time of her death, raise doubts about Lang's guilt.
“It's certainly a very defendable case,” Difenderfer said.
Livingston said Darlington told him Jon Lang threatened him to keep him from saying anything.
According to press accounts in California, Darlington was arrested in November 2011 on suspicion of a parole violation after a police pursuit that stemmed from a report of a man pointing a gun at a house.
Smith's autopsy found that Debbie Lang's body had no bruises and her blood-alcohol level was 0.318 — which was three times the legal limit at the time for drunken driving. Smith did not return repeated phone messages last week.
Livingston said that when he investigated Debbie Lang's death, he always felt he had enough evidence to charge her husband, but that the district attorney at the time, Theresa Ferris-Dukovich, didn't agree.
“She probably erred on the side of caution,” said Livingston, now a Beaver Falls district judge. “But she told me, ‘If it is a homicide case, there's no statute of limitations.' ”
Ferris-Dukovich, who retired as the county district attorney in 2000, said Livingston's summary “was accurate,” but she didn't want to comment further.
“I don't want to interpose with the investigation and the prosecution,” Ferris-Dukovich said. “Hopefully, justice will be served.”
Darlington had been at a party with the Langs and other adults, according to Livingston. According to press reports at the time, he told investigators he had climbed into the pool, which was murky with algae, and felt her body on the bottom.
Livingston said the state of Lang's body showed that she likely had been in the pool for at least nine hours.
Livingston said police had been to the Lang house many times for domestic disputes.
“In my mind, I always knew he did it,” Livingston said.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.