ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) -- Linda Stangel, a Walker native who was convicted of manslaughter for pushing her boyfriend off a cliff, was due to be released from prison Monday after serving a six-year sentence in an Oregon case that drew national interest.
On the evening of Nov. 12, 1995, Stangel, then 23, called Bev Jones to say Jones' son, David Wahl, was missing.
Stangel and Wahl, 27, had been dating for about a year. Stangel told Jones and her husband, Tom, that she and Wahl had driven to Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach. Wahl got out of the car, walked away and never came back, Stangel said.
The police organized a search, but after four days, the only trace of Wahl was an empty beer can.
Two weeks later, a headless body washed up on the Washington shore. It took authorities nearly six months to determine that it was Wahl.
At the time, investigators wrote it off as a suicide, but the Joneses thought otherwise.
"He wasn't suicidal," Bev Jones said. "And I just felt I wasn't getting the full story from (Stangel)."
The Joneses grew more suspicious when, a week after Wahl disappeared, Stangel moved back to Walker, where she had grown up and been a high school cheerleader.
Although the Clatsop County sheriff's office had closed the case, Jones persuaded the Oregon State Police to reopen it.
When Stangel returned to Oregon for Wahl's memorial service, two state police detectives showed up with questions about Wahl's disappearance. At their request, Stangel retraced the route to Ecola State Park.
Then, Stangel and the detectives walked along a path to a cliff.
Stangel said she and Wahl were standing on the cliff when he pretended to push her, even though he knew she was afraid of heights. She pushed back angrily, and he fell.
She repeated her story in greater detail in two subsequent tape-recorded interviews that day in the detectives' car in the parking lot of the park and at a motel in Portland.
A Clatsop County grand jury indicted her for manslaughter and she went to trial in early 1997.
But during her trial, Stangel said she was terrified of heights and had been coerced into making her confession by the detectives, who told her she wouldn't face any charges if she admitted to Wahl's death.
"They told me that Dave had fallen from some place high. They were telling me it was an accident, nothing was going to happen. That's when I began to think of some way to get out of this situation," she told NBC's "Dateline." "Because I knew I had to tell them something or I wasn't leaving this place."
The jury convicted Stangel of second-degree manslaughter, which is defined as recklessly killing someone. She got the statutory minimum prison term of six years and three months.
The trial aired on Court TV and "Dateline" decided to do a show on the case -- with a twist.
The newsmagazine asked viewers to use the Internet to vote on whether they thought Wahl's death was a case of manslaughter or suicide. The verdict? Fifty-eight percent thought Stangel was guilty.
Wahl's mother, Bev Jones, still believes Stangel got off easy.
"She's only 29 years old, and now she's going to do whatever she wants," Jones said. "She's got her whole life ahead of her. David's gone. They put drug pushers in prison a lot longer than killing a person."
Although Stangel is free, she faces three years of post-prison supervision. Oregon authorities have agreed to send her back to her hometown in Minnesota to serve it.
Stangel's mother, Retta Freeman, said her daughter doesn't have any plans yet.
"She just wants to get it all behind her, and so do I," Freeman said. "We just have to move forward."
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