Ex-cop testifies at his own homicide trial

April 8, 2013
A still image from video footage of police questioning David James McClelland - Washington County district attorney’s office

For nearly an hour Monday afternoon, David James McClelland answered questions and tried to minimize his role in the slaying of a 92-year-old neighbor, Evelyn Stepko, a widow who was victimized by a series of burglaries over a two-year period.

McClelland, 38, who is charged with conspiracy, receiving stolen property and other crimes along with homicide, said he never set foot in the home of Stepko, a widow who mistrusted banks and kept thousands of dollars hidden around her house in Coal Center. After her death in July 2011, police found $82,000 in her home.

McClelland’s pay as a part-time Monongahela police officer was being garnished because he owed rent, student loan payments and credit card debt, he said under questioning by his attorney, Joshua Camson.

Behind on his cellphone bill in June 2010, D.J. McClelland said he hoped to borrow $300 from his father and stepmother because “Dave always had what I thought were savings accounts.”

The elder McClelland received Social Security disability income totaling about $15,000 annually, while his wife worked as a grocery store clerk, earning about $22,000 that year.

He met his father at his shed, where the son saw bags of cash.

“Why didn’t you tell on him?” Camson asked.

“Because he’s my father,” D.J. McClelland testified.

It was at that time that D.J. McClelland said he learned that his father, David Allan McClelland, was responsible for breaking into Stepko’s home.

“You could’ve said, ‘Dad, you’re under arrest,’ or ‘Dad, I’m calling California police,” said First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas as part of his cross-examination of McClelland.

D.J. McClelland took $300 to pay the bill, and the younger McClelland said his father and stepmother then informed him they would give him $20,000, which the son said he spent “just messing around.”

In one of three statements to police, D.J. McClelland said he told of receiving monthly stipends “to minimize the amount that was actually given.”

In February 2011, D.J. McClelland testified, he was behind in his payments on his Jeep, so Diane McClelland had the repossession order lifted by lending her stepson her debit card.

Around that time, he saw cash piled on the island in the elder McClelland’s kitchen.

“You’re a police officer,” Camson asked. “Why didn’t you say something? Did you realize if you’d call police, you’d be turning yourself in?”

D.J. McClelland replied, “Yes.”

In addition to the cash, Diane McClelland gave him her 2007 Pontiac G-6, and she and his father invited him to live in January 2011 in a house at 12 School St. they had purchased for $10,000 in musty bills as a rental property.

“I did not know he purchased the home,” D.J. McClelland said of his father.

“Are you minimizing again?” Lucas asked.

D.J. McClelland previously lived in Monongahela, and, for about a month lived with a girlfriend in Canonsburg, but he moved out when the relationship fizzled.

In 2010, D.J. McClelland earned slightly more than $26,000 from his job as a part-time police officer in Monongahela and $531 from the district attorney’s drug task force, but he received thousands of additional dollars from his father and stepmother. He worked for a short time as a part-time officer for the Washington Township, Fayette County, police department before his arrest.

In a rapid-fire exchange, Camson reeled off the dates of burglaries and a telephone-wire cutting at Stepko’s home, each time asking D.J. McClelland if he was responsible for the actions or if he committed the acts with his father.

“No,” was D.J.’s McClelland’s answer each time.

State police Cpl. John Tobin testified about a flurry of phone calls between father and son that took place during a 12-hour period on the day Stepko was found dead in her home, but the younger McClelland said they typically talked on the phone many times a day.

Police also documented through phone records a number of phone calls between the men that occurred in March 2011, when a local bar owner, Thomas J. Stover, saw a man who he said looked like D.J. McClelland leaving Stepko’s home with a trash bag, then going to the back of D.J. McClelland’s home. Lucas tried to show that the McClelland men attempted to determine whether Stepko was away from her home by placing calls.

D.J. McClelland said his father committed the burglary that day, then came to his home to retrieve a key.

Lucas asked D.J. McClelland why, as a member of the Washington County District Attorney’s Drug Task Force he didn’t make an anonymous phone call to the agency’s 24-hour hotline. The first assistant district attorney also questioned why D.J. McClelland, in a videotaped interrogation, moved his arms apart when describing the opening of double doors of a cedar closet if he had never been inside Stepko’s home.

“I did make that motion, yes I did,” D.J. McClelland replied.

The prosecution on Monday introduced a time line of purchases and bank deposits into the elder McClellands’ account to try to link them with ill-gotten gains from Stepko’s home.

There has been testimony thus far about the purchase of vehicles, jewelry, a lawn tractor, firearms and real estate by David Allan McClelland, 58; his wife, Diane McClelland, 50; and his son.

“His goal was to own that whole street,” D.J. McClelland told state police during an interrogation in August 2011 at the state police barracks in Washington after the son had been charged.

Tobin said police documented D.J. McClelland purchasing $5,411 worth of firearms between 2009 and 2011, when the burglaries took place at Stepko’s home.

The elder McClelland is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in Stepko’s stabbing death. Blood on a latex glove found in a bucket in Stepko’s home linked him to her slaying.

Diane McClelland was convicted by a Washington County jury last month of conspiracy and receiving stolen property. She will likely be sentenced in early June.

Judge John DiSalle has scheduled closing arguments for this morning. After DiSalle explains law applicable to the case, the jury will begin deliberating.

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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