Greed for widow’s money led to her murder, prosecutors argue
Diane McClelland leaves the courtroom Tuesday at the end of the day’s testimony in her murder-conspiracy trial.
Andy McNeil / Observer-Reporter
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A dozen witnesses testified Tuesday in the murder-conspiracy trial of a Coal Center woman whose husband is serving a life sentence for the slaying of a 92-year-old woman from whom he stole more than $215,000 over a two-year period.
Diane Marie McClelland, 50, is charged with conspiracy to commit criminal homicide in the 2011 stabbing death of her neighbor, Evelyn Stepko, a widow who resided in Coal Center her entire life. McClelland 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.
Her husband, David Allen McClelland, 57, pleaded guilty in October to first-degree murder and other charges before Washington County Judge John DiSalle and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Stepko was found face down in a pool of blood in the basement of her Pike Run Drive home July 18, 2011, with two stab wounds to her neck and multiple blunt-force injuries to her chest and face. A forensic pathologist testified that one of the stab wounds hit her jugular vein and damaged her esophagus and trachea, but he said he did not believe her death was instantaneous.
In his opening statement Tuesday, First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas said the victim, a survivor of the Great Depression, was “not a lady with expensive tastes.”
He held up a $20 bill to the jury and explained how the victim had hidden money – some of which dated back more than six decades – in odd places around her home, which reportedly had no indoor plumbing.
“The greed for Evelyn’s money brought us here today,” Lucas said.
According to prosecutors, 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 expensive firearms.
Diane McClelland’s attorney, Brian Gorman, opened by stating that everything Lucas said with regard to the prosecution’s factual recitation of the case was true. However, he countered that the facts against his client constitute receiving stolen property, but not the other charges.
“The atrocity speaks for itself,” Gorman said. “But the fact of the matter is Diane had nothing to do with her murder.”
“David A. McClelland killed her,” he added.
While Lucas argued that McClelland conspired with her husband and shares responsibility for his actions because she helped put them in motion, Gorman said evidence will show his client was not aware of what her spouse was doing at the time of the murder.
Several forensic experts testified about the evidence found at the scene, including a bloody latex glove that linked David McClelland to the homicide through both DNA and fingerprint evidence. The jury was also shown more than 20 photos from inside Stepko’s house, including one depicting the slain widow lying face down on her basement floor.
California Borough police Chief Rick Encapera and two of his officers testified about five separate burglary-related incidents Stepko had reported to police between August 2009 and May 2011. One officer, Curtis Rice, testified that he was called to Stepko’s house after her telephone wires had been cut less than two months before her death.
Encapera also said he knew Stepko from living in Coal Center until 1998. He described her as frugal and said she was often seen taking trips into town, walking to and from a bus stop about a half-mile away from her home.
Three neighbors testified, including Dale Huffman, who lives across the street from the Stepko residence and who helped fix the phone lines after they were cut. His wife, Donna Huffman, said they had looked out for Stepko because of her age and because she was nervous toward the end of her life.
Diane McClelland remains free on $100,000 bond. Her stepson, 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. He continues to be lodged in the Greene County jail while awaiting trial in April.
The trial, before DiSalle, will continue today.