Jurors hear recording of defendant in slaying trial

Jurors hear recording of defendant in Coal Center homicide trial

April 3, 2013
David James McClelland is escorted by two deputies out of Washington County Courthouse Monday. McClelland is charged in connection with the death of 92-year-old Evelyn Stepko. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Former police officer David J. McClelland told state police in a 20-minute recorded statement that he received cash and gifts from his father and stepmother and “kind of figured it out” that burglaries at the home of their 92-year-old neighbor, Evelyn Stepko, were the source of the money.

But D.J. McClelland also told investigators he knew nothing of his father’s involvement in the murder of the Coal Center resident in a recording jurors heard Wednesday as part of the opening day of testimony in the younger McClelland’s homicide trial.

D.J. McClelland, who turned 38 Wednesday, faces charges of criminal homicide, conspiracy, burglary, receiving stolen property, dealing in the proceeds of illegal activities and aiding in the consummation of a crime.

The younger McClelland had been working for about three weeks as a part-time police officer in Washington Township, Fayette County, when then-Washington County District Attorney Steven Toprani phoned him July 22, 2011, and asked him to come to the California Police Department to discuss the Stepko case.

Toprani had a phone number for McClelland because the officer was a member of the district attorney’s drug task force who earned $2,634 from that detail in 2008 through 2010.

In the recording, McClelland said he received between $22,000 and $26,000, often in musty-smelling older bills that his father, David Allan McClelland, said he had put aside from a defunct construction business. According to D.J. McClelland, his father and stepmother, Diane McClelland, would give D.J. McClelland between $1,500 and $2,000 monthly or every other month. He said he used the money to buy groceries, clothing and gasoline and to pay bills.

Diane and David A. McClelland purchased a house on School Street for him and furnished his living room and dining room. D.J. McClelland said he also bought several firearms.

Stepko was stabbed to death on July 17 or 18, 2011, in her home in the neighborhood known as Granville.

The recording is not the only statement from D.J. McClelland the jury will hear. His attorney, Joshua Camson, said McClelland will testify.

Camson, in his opening statement, said his client was behind on his bills and his cellphone service was about to be terminated in June 2010 when his father gave him money to tide him over and then some.

“His understanding is, that’s the end of it,” Camson told the jury of six men, six women and two female alternates. “His dad tells him it’s from Ms. Stepko. Should D.J. have said, ‘Dad, what are you doing? I’m calling the police.’ Yes. He knew it was wrong.”

Camson said D.J. McClelland did not plan a burglary with his father, and he actually told his father to stop burglarizing Stepko’s home.

“The judge will tell you knowledge by itself isn’t enough for a conspiracy. There has to be a plan,” the court-appointed defense attorney said.

Stepko’s neighbor became concerned and contacted authorities the morning of July 18, 2011, when he did not see her at 1076 Pike Run Drive and there was no answer when he tried to contact her.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas said a firefighter found her lying dead on the dirt floor of her basement when he shimmied into a window.

“Evelyn Stepko lived a very austere, simple life,” Lucas said. Her home was not served by a city water system, and she kept a small fortune in cash in envelopes throughout her home.

After Stepko’s death, police found about $82,000 there, testified Trooper Richard D. Hunter.

Diane McClelland earned about $22,000 a year from her job as a supermarket clerk in Rostraver Township, and David A. McClelland had an income of about $15,000 from Social Security disability payments.

“Yet they lived in a house with a pool and an outdoor Jacuzzi, and they drove a new car. David J. McClelland lived in a house purchased by his father with $10,000 in cash,” Lucas told the jury.

The younger McClelland had a new deck constructed on his house at 12 School St., his dog had a kennel with a fenced run, and his shed had an array of new tools.

“What happened around the time of these burglaries? What did this defendant know? What did he get?” Lucas asked.

Stepko reported break-ins and the cutting of phone lines between Aug. 4, 2009, and May 22, 2011, to California police.

Linda May Jellick, a teller at the Rostraver First National Bank, testified that a man wearing a police officer’s uniform deposited $1,500 in older 20-dollar bills and a payroll check into the account of Diane McClelland on Aug. 27, 2009.

“He said, ‘I need to make this deposit into my stepmother’s account. I told her I’d do it before I started work,’” Jellick told the jury.

McClelland’s father, who did yard work for Stepko, pleaded guilty to murder in October and is serving life imprisonment without possibility of parole. DNA evidence linked him to a blood-stained latex glove found in a bucket in Stepko’s home.

Diane McClelland, who was convicted last month of conspiracy and receiving stolen property, is awaiting sentencing. She could receive 37 to 74 years imprisonment.

Testimony continues today in the courtroom of 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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