Jury seated for Coal Center murder-conspiracy trial

February 25, 2013
Diane McClelland

Testimony will begin today in the trial of a Coal Center woman accused of conspiring with her stepson and husband in the slaying of a 92-year-old woman from whom the husband stole more than $215,000 over a two-year period.

A jury of six men and six women will decide the fate of Diane Marie McClelland, 50, who is charged with conspiracy to commit criminal homicide in the 2011 stabbing death of Evelyn Stepko, a neighbor and widow. She also faces charges for dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, conspiracy to commit burglary, receiving stolen property and hindering apprehension or prosecution by providing false information to law enforcement, court records show.

In October, her husband, David Allen McClelland, 57, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges before Washington County Judge John DiSalle and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The son, David James McClelland, 37, also of Coal Center, a former part-time police officer in Washington Township, Fayette County, will be tried separately on charges of criminal homicide, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, receiving stolen property, aiding the commission of a crime and three counts of conspiracy. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty against him.

The elder McClelland stabbed Stepko to death July 17, 2011, in her home at 1076 Pike Run Drive, Coal Center. She was found face down in a pool of blood in her basement the following day with two stab wounds to her neck and multiple injuries to her chest.

Hired by Stepko to cut her grass, the elder McClelland came to abuse his neighbor’s trust, burglarize her home and stab her to death during a robbery, prosecutors said. Prior to her death, the widow had reported five separate burglary-related incidents to local police between August 2009 and May 2011.

Living less than 200 yards away from his victim, the elder McClelland acted like a concerned neighbor when firefighters and police arrived to check on Stepko and discovered her body, prosecutors said. He also spoke to television news reporters at the scene.

A bloody latex glove found at the home linked the elder McClelland to the homicide through both DNA and fingerprint evidence.

According to police, the McClellands used the money stolen from Stepko to gamble – running $28,000 through The Meadows Racetrack & Casino – as well as to purchase property, three vehicles and a cache of firearms.

The younger McClelland reportedly received about $2,000 monthly from his father and confessed in July 2011 to confronting his father earlier that year about the source of the money, court records show. The elder McClelland allegedly admitted to his son he had been stealing the cash from Stepko.

A survivor of the Great Depression, Stepko led an active life described by prosecutors as “extraordinarily simple.” Her home had no interior plumbing and she did not own a vehicle, despite hoarding a large amount of musty money.

After her death, police found more than $60,000 in envelopes located throughout her home.

While entering his guilty plea, the elder McClelland questioned the accuracy of the amount he was accused of stealing from Stepko. First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas called the amount a “conservative estimate” and said prosecutors have evidence that shows the disparity between the McClellands’ legitimate income and the amount of money they spent.

Diane McClelland previously told police she earned $22,000 a year working at a local Shop ’n Save grocery store, and her husband received $1,000 a month in disability payments.

Meanwhile, more than $38,000 was deposited into the couple’s bank account in June 2010, followed by another $15,000 three months later, court records show. Diane McClelland purchased a car for $11,750 that same month, which she then gave to her stepson, court records show.

Diane McClelland remains free on $100,000 bond. The younger McClelland continues to be lodged in the Greene County jail while awaiting trial.

Andy McNeil has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2011 as a general assignment reporter. He covers courts and education, and also serves as a photographer and videographer. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College, with a degree in English; Duquense University with a post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate, and Point Park University with a graduate degree in journalism and mass communication.

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