Plea ends Raleigh murder case

A prostate cancer patient pleads no contest, opting to live out his days in prison

Staff WriterJanuary 25, 2006 

Prostate cancer patient Daniel Lang pleaded no contest Tuesday to the charge that he murdered his wife in January 2003. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The plea ends efforts for Wake County prosecutors to bring Lang to trial, where he could have faced the death penalty.

Lang's first-degree capital murder trial was scheduled for March. It had been delayed for more than a year because of medical reports that he was suffering from a terminal illness.

Lang, who is serving a prison sentence through 2007 for having sex with a patient in his care at Dorothea Dix, the state's psychiatric hospital, was accused of stabbing his wife's neck and sexually assaulting her. Shirley Ann Lang's body was found in a wooded area south of downtown near Dix. She had been a 44-year-old nursing student at Wake Technical Community College.

Wake First Assistant District Attorney Howard Cummings said in October that medical reports revealed that Lang is expected to live two to 10 years. Prosecutors had been told that Lang, 54, was in the advanced stages of prostate cancer.

Cummings said Tuesday that there was a special cruelty in Shirley Lang's death because she was abducted and had "some consciousness of impending death." A note found in her pocket during an autopsy was torn from her paycheck stub. It said, "Help. My husband and another man are trying to kill me."

"She thought she would have the opportunity to pass it to someone, but she never did," Cummings told Wake Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens, who handed down the life sentence.

Defense attorney Johnny Gaskins said that although his client denies involvement in Shirley Lang's death, Daniel Lang chose to plead no contest and accept a life prison sentence because of the state's overwhelming evidence and because "the potential for the death penalty would be severe."

And with a terminal illness, Daniel Lang would live more comfortably in a prison's general population than he would on death row, Gaskins added.

Staff writer Cindy George can be reached at 829-4656 or cgeorge@newsobserver.com.

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