Ex-cop fights back tears as jury convicts him of 2nd-degree murder

April 9, 2013
David James McClelland is lead back to the courtroom to hear the jury’s verdict Tuesday afternoon. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

After the third and final defendant stood trial or pleaded guilty to the homicide-conspiracy stemming from the 2011 slaying of 92-year-old widow Evelyn Stepko of Coal Center, mysteries remain.

A Washington County took just 2 1/2 hours Tuesday to convict former police officer David James McClelland, 38, of second-degree murder, receiving stolen property, dealing in unlawful proceeds of criminal activity and conspiracy.

The total theft from the Stepko’s home may have been as much as $300,000 said First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas after the conclusion of the trial, but asked what happened to much of the money, he responded with another query: “Isn’t that the $64,000 question here?”

Armed with search warrants, police scoured the homes of D.J. McClelland at 12 School St. in California’s Granville neighborhood, and that of his father and stepmother at 16 School St.

“John Tobin and Lou Serafini did a heck of a job today,” said Lucas, referring to the state police corporal and trooper who investigated the homicide and conspiracy.

“Here’s the thing – that’s the purchases we could find receipts for in their house. I mean, clearly they had to use the garbage sometime and throw some of the stuff out.”

The prosecution’s presentation strategy began to gel as the members of the team prepared for David A. McClelland’s trial.

“Back in September, going over all the evidence, Tobin went through the brown bag of receipts and realized each one of those was a cash receipt,” Lucas said.

They developed the timeline to show a trend of burglaries followed by bank deposits.

David A. McClelland, 58, pleaded guilty in October to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Lucas paraphrased a sometimes-profane police interrogation of D.J. McClelland that included the observation, “Holy crap, that’s an awful lot of money to go through in a couple of months.”

“That’s the part that we’ve never been able to resolve,” Lucas said. “It’s hard to understand how you go through $50,000 in such a short period of time.

The defendant said he had no drug problem. … There were a lot of different girlfriends.”

The McClellands purchased real estate, firearms, jewelry, vehicles, tools and a lawn tractor.

“Going to the casino was one way to wash the money,” Lucas said.

D.J. McClelland had $2,000 in his house, and he purchased about $5,400 worth of firearms for himself, but police found between $8,000 & $11,000 worth of firearms in his house.

Stepko, ironically, did not trust banks but bank records, and the money trail in general, played an important role in convicting D.J. McClelland and his stepmother, Diane McClelland, 50.

There was DNA evidence against David Allan McClelland, Diane’s husband and D.J.’s father in a blood-stained glove found inside Stepko’s home. But had David A. McClelland’s case gone to trial, the prosecution planned to introduce testimony from a bank teller who recalled him exchanging older $20 and $50 bills for new $100 bills.

David and Diane McClelland had in their bank account $54,000 for which there was no legitimate source of income, Lucas said. Diane McClelland, a supermarket clerk, was depositing thousands of dollars in cash along with her meager paychecks.

Then, there is the question about D.J. McClelland’s role in Stepko’s slaying.

“I don’t believe David A. McClelland got through that basement window on his own, lowered himself down,” Lucas said, referring to a basement window at ground level, “got up those steps. That’s not a one-man job.”

The father, whose sole legitimate income was from Social Security disability, had heart and seizure problems, according to testimony at his son’s trial, and a California firefighter, Jamison Roth, and Serafini testified that they crawled through the window and entered the basement with assistance.

Stepko, shoeless and wearing a bra with no shirt, was surprised to find a robber in her home, confronted the person and was stabbed in the process. There were signs of a struggle; her body had signs of what are known as “defensive wounds.” David A. McClelland, when arrested a few days after the slaying, had bite marks on his arms.

“I believe there was evidence of a cleanup, and it was rushed,” Lucas said, noting the latex glove in a bucket that contained both a fingerprint and blood of David Allan McClelland. Two envelopes of money were left out in the open when it had been Stepko’s practice to hide her money.

A knife was recovered from a storm drain outside David A. McClelland’s house, but it was immersed in water and therefore contained no physical evidence that would link it to the stabbing.

“Was he physically in the house when the murder occurred?” Lucas asked of D.J. McClelland. “I don’t think that I can say that.”

Delores Sprowls of Bentleyville, Stepko’s niece, said after the verdict, “She is vindicated. I’m happy. The family’s happy. We’re glad that all three of them got what they deserved.

“He could have saved Aunt Evelyn’s life if he had only turned in his father in the beginning.”

She plans to make statements at the upcoming sentencings.

D.J. McClelland’s 2nd-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence.

Lucas had with Joshua Camson, D.J. McClelland’s taxpayer-funded attorney, a brief discussion about a plea bargain of 25 to 50 years imprisonment on third-degree murder with consecutive prison time for conspiracy.

Camson, for whom this was the first jury trial, said he will appeal on the grounds of insufficiency of evidence but he said he will have to study the trial transcript for other legal issues.

The appeal is due 30 days from the sentencing date, which Judge John DiSalle has not yet scheduled.

D.J. McClelland’s faced reddened, and he appeared to be blinking back tears. His mother sobbed quietly in the courtroom as the forewoman read the verdict of seven men and four additional women.

The forewoman said the jury found evidence of conspiracy to commit homicide, burglary, robbery, theft and dealing in unlawful proceeds of a crime.

The judge ordered D.J. McClelland’s bond revoked, although he has been held prisoner in the Greene County jail to avoid contact with anyone whom he may have charged when he was a police officer for Monongahela. At the time of his arrest, he was a part-time officer for Washington Township, Fayette County.

David A. McClelland is a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution-Greene County, and Diane McClelland is incarcerated while awaiting sentencing.

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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