Witnesses testify to land, other purchases at McClelland murder-conspiracy trial

February 28, 2013

Diane McClelland’s federal W-2 form for 2010 showed she earned $18,425 as a grocery store clerk in Rostraver Township, yet she regularly made cash deposits of thousands of dollars in addition to her paychecks, prosecution witnesses testified Thursday in her murder-conspiracy trial in Washington County Court.

McClelland, 50, of Coal Center, is charged with conspiracy to commit homicide, receiving stolen property and other counts in connection with the July 17, 2011, stabbing death of Evelyn Stepko, the McClellands’ 92-year-old neighbor.

State police Cpl. Joseph W. Panepinto, a former criminal investigator at the Belle Vernon substation, gleaned the tax information from a computer desk in McClelland’s bedroom in a July 22, 2011, search of the premises.

Her husband’s Social Security benefits statement for the same year showed income of $15,420.

One bank teller from the in-store First National Bank at the Rostraver Shop ’n Save recalled Diane McClelland working in the store’s health and beauty department. Under questioning by First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas, she and two other tellers testified about slightly more than $26,000 being deposited in the McClellands’ account between August 2009 and May 4, 2011.

Meanwhile, sales receipts in the McClelland home showed spending at area stores for a gazebo, snow blower, lawn tractor and other equipment, all paid for in cash.

State police Cpl. Louis M. Reda testified a wooden beer crate at the bottom of a television cabinet in the McClelland living room contained $6,408 in bundled currency that had a “musty, moldy smell,” while Trooper Timothy Mott told of finding $10,100 in bundled cash that was inside a felt bag pulled from an under-bed drawer.

Mott also described many firearms found in the McClelland home, some of which he called “high-end” because of their excellent condition and value of more than $1,000. There were receipts for some firearm, ammunition and accessory purchases, but some of the items listed on receipts were not found in the McClelland residence.

Stepko, a widow, shunned banks, and after her death, police reportedly found more than $82,000 in cash hidden for decades in her modest Pike Run Drive home, which lacked indoor plumbing.

At the homicide-conspiracy trial, the prosecution produced two witnesses to tell of real estate purchases the McClellands made within six months.

On Thursday morning, Steve Slogick of Altoona testified the defendant’s husband, David McClelland, expressed interest in purchasing a two-acre piece of property along Pike Run that Slogick had been trying to sell since 2005 after the death of his mother.

McClelland’s offer for the land increased to $4,500 from a previous $3,000 in 2011, but he said that he would have to “talk it over with his wife. She took care of the finances,” Slogick told the jury of six men, six women and two alternates. The McClellands paid for the land by check.

And in October 2010, Mr. and Mrs. McClelland paid $10,000 cash – which David McClelland produced in a brown grocery bag – for 12 School St., Coal Center, from the family of David McClelland’s lifelong friend, Danny Fowkes of California.

“My brother wanted a little more, but Diane McClelland said no, $10,000,” Fowkes testified.

At the closing on the property, Fowkes opened the bag and noticed a bad aroma.

“I said, Dave, where in the hell you been keeping this at?” Fowkes testified. “It stinks, and he said he was keeping it in his basement.”

Under cross-examination by McClelland’s attorney, Brian Gorman, Fowkes said David McClelland volunteered he had a run of good luck, winning $85,000 from a ticket he bought from a former co-worker at the long-closed Volkswagen plant in New Stanton and that he had won money at The Meadows casino, netting $100,000 in a single month.

Panepinto noted the McClellands’ tax documents showed no gambling proceeds of $100,000.

Fowkes said McClelland notified him after discovering his mother had fallen inside her home.

“I’m indebted to Dave,” Fowkes said. “He did a lot of good for me. He did jobs around my mother’s house. He treated my mother well.”

Once Fowkes took the cash to First Niagara Bank, California, a bank employee said she segregated it for exchange with the Federal Reserve because the older bills lacked security features of more recent notes.

The house at 12 School St. was also the subject of testimony for Trooper Charles Morrison, a forensic technician from the Uniontown barracks, who searched it July 22, 2011. By then, it was the home of David James McClelland, the couple’s son.

A deck had been added to the home so recently that tags were still on the lumber. In the center console of the car parked there was $430, mostly in 50-dollar bills issued in the 1950s to 1970s. A bedroom safe contained police department badges and a total of $2,020, more than the younger McClelland earned in some recent years as documented on tax forms at the home.

He was also in arrears on tax matters, according to correspondence Morrison mentioned.

Troopers also seized from the home eight rifles, 15 pistols or revolvers, a bayonet and a 14-inch U.S. Marine Corps knife. Morrison noted the presence of two flat-screen televisions in the living room, a newer washing machine and tools in a backyard shed that were “not cheap, not old.”

David Allen McClelland, 57, the defendant’s husband, is serving a life sentence without the chance of parole on first-degree murder and other charges after pleading guilty. David James McClelland, a former police officer in Washington Township, Fayette County, is scheduled for trial in April on charges of homicide, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, receiving stolen property and three counts of conspiracy.

What is likely to be the final day of testimony in Diane McClelland’s trial is scheduled to begin this morning before Judge John DiSalle.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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