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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)

April 27, 1999


His attorney said that, at worst, Richard Lang was a retiree so diminished by tranquilizers, anti-depressants and sickness that he lost his memory and his inhibition and fired the shotgun blast that instantly killed his ex-wife in the busy parking lot of a State College hospital last year.   A Centre County jury wasn’t buying the story yesterday.

After four days of testimony and two hours of deliberation, it found Lang guilty of first-degree murder, siding with a prosecutor who portrayed Lang as cold and cunning, completely aware of everything he did – a career military man who killed his wife of 40 years “on a search-and-destroy mission.”

Moments after the verdict was announced, as Lang, 67, sat passively at the defense table, sucking on a lozenge, Judge Charles Brown sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Police say that at midday May 28, as Joan Lang, 67, settled into her car in the Centre Community Hospital parking lot, Richard Lang sneaked up from behind, poked his 12-gauge shotgun through an open rear window and shot her in the head.

Whatever happened, defense attorney Edward Blanarik said, it is a mental void to Richard Lang.

“Mr. Lang is trying to understand why, how and if, in fact, he was involved,” Blanarik told Brown during the sentencing.   “I’ve seen so many defendants who have that convenient memory lapse. They just remember up to the murder,” Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar said after the trial.

Even if Blanarik had swayed the jury to conclude that Lang was so impaired that the killing was third-degree murder – a homicide with malice but without intent – the accompanying 20-to-40-year sentence would have amounted to life in prison, the lawyer said. After two heart attacks, triple-bypass surgery and a diagnosis that carotid arteries to his brain are substantially blocked, Lang “could go any day,” Blanarik said.

Short, ruddy-faced Lang was a career Marine who did two tours of duty in Vietnam, rose to the rank of major, a man who briefly headed the local transit authority two decades ago, got a master’s degree in educational counseling and taught ROTC at Penn State University.

But he also was threatening, according to Gricar, a man who packed guns everywhere he went and who told one physician his loyalties were to the Marines first, his dogs second and his wife third.   The Langs divorced in 1997, three years after Joan Lang became so fearful of her husband she slipped out of their State College-area home and never returned, Gricar said.

When the divorce was sealed, though, the property distribution wasn’t.  And Judge David Grine’s order that Lang sell the homestead the couple had bought 30 years earlier was the final event that pushed Lang to homicide, Gricar said.

A week before that order was to go to a court hearing, Lang showed up at the hospital gift shop where his wife was a volunteer and locked her in an angry argument, police say.    Two hours later, Lang was back, packing the shotgun and waiting for her to leave work, Gricar said.

“She was a deserter in Maj. Lang’s army, and we all know what happens to deserters, don’t we?” Gricar asked jurors yesterday. “… It was a classic military ambush.”