Murder-conspiracy trial focuses on money trail

Prosecution details cash transactions at murder-conspiracy trial

February 27, 2013
Unmarked police cars surround the home of Evelyn Stepko, who was found stabbed to death Monday. Photo taken Tuesday, July 19, 2011. Published Wednesday, July 20, 2011.

A Coal Center woman on trial for a murder-conspiracy had nearly $10,000 cash in her vehicle, according to police testimony, when her husband was arrested for the slaying of their 92-year-old neighbor – a widow from whom he stole more than $215,00 over a two-year period.

On Wednesday, state police Trooper Todd Porter testified police found $5,380 cash in a pink polka dot wallet and $4,400 cash in a whisky bag inside a 2009 Lincoln Navigator belonging to Diane Marie McClelland. The 50-year-old is charged with conspiracy to commit criminal homicide in the 2011 stabbing death of Evelyn Stepko.

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, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty in October to first-degree murder and other charges before Washington County Judge John DiSalle.

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.

Taking the stand first on Wednesday, Cheryl Rae Jurik of Daisytown, a friend of the victim, said Stepko was a private woman of inexpensive tastes who she affectionately called a “lady of mystery.”

After Stepko’s death, police reportedly found more than $82,000 cash hidden throughout her modest home. A survivor of the Great Depression, she reportedly had no indoor plumbing and did not own a vehicle despite hoarding musty cash from decades ago.

“The greed for Evelyn’s money brought us here today,” first assistant district attorney Michael Lucas said during his opening argument Tuesday.

Lucas contends McClelland conspired with her husband and shares responsibility for his actions because she helped put them in motion. However, her attorney, Brian Gorman, claims the evidence against his client constitutes receiving stolen property, but not the other charges.

Prosecutors have alleged the McClellands used the money stolen from Stepko to gamble, as well as to purchase property, three vehicles and a cache of expensive firearms.

In addition to the cash discovered in McClelland’s vehicle, which matched the age of the money in Stepko’s house, Porter testified several receipts were found including one for a $1,000 pair of custom moccasins.

Troopers also testified bank envelopes from Equibank, which merged with another bank about two decades ago, were found in both the Stepko and McClelland residences – the latter of which boasts a pool and jacuzzi.

After her husband was taken in custody July 22, 2011, outside of Sam’s Club in South Strabane Township, McClelland was taken to be interviewed at the state police barracks nearby.

State police Trooper Frank Mysza said McClelland claimed she had looked at the pink polka dot wallet earlier that day and there was no money in it. Several times she denied knowing about the murder or the burglaries committed by her husband, he said.

Prior to Stepko’s death, the widow had reported five separate burglary-related incidents to local police between August 2009 and May 2011.

Mysza testified McClelland said she had turned a blind-eye and never questioned the source of the cash coming into the residence.

When asked about their household income, she 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. Mysza testified McClelland said the extra income came from a private lottery ticket, casino winnings and their income tax return.

State police Trooper Jeff Trypus, who handles gaming enforcement at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, testified the McClellands never won a jackpot. He explained that individual prizes more than $1,200 require a W-9. Trypus said the couple posted losses during each trip logged on their players club cards except for one occasion when the elder McClelland walked away about $67 richer.

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 will continue today before DiSalle.

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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