Prosecutor claims greed led to California woman's death
Evelyn Stepko, 92, lived a simple life that “takes you back many, many decades,” Washington County Assistant District Attorney Mike Lucas said Tuesday.
When Stepko's lifeless body was found in her home in the Granville section of California on July 18, 2011, more than $80,000 in cash that dated back many decades was found there.
Greed for that money lead to Stepko's death, Lucas said in his opening statement in the trial of Diane McClelland.
McClelland is charged with conspiracy to commit homicide, receiving stolen property, hindering apprehension or prosecution, dealing with proceeds of unlawful activities, and criminal conspiracy.
On Oct. 15, her husband, David A. McClelland, 58, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, burglary, robbery/inflicting serious bodily injury, theft by unlawful taking, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities and three counts of conspiracy.
He was sentenced to life in prison without chance for parole for the murder conviction and up to 42 years on the other charges. By accepting the plea, he avoided a possible death penalty.
His son, David J. McClelland, 37 – a part-time Washington Township police officer at the time of the murder – is charged with criminal homicide, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, receiving stolen property, aiding in the consummation of a crime, and three counts of conspiracy. He is expected to face trial in the spring.
“We're here today, I submit to you, because of the greed for Evelyn Stepko's money brought us here,” Lucas told the jury.
Defense attorney Brian Gorman attempted to distance Diane McClelland from the killing and claimed no conspiracy existed between his client and David A. McClelland.
“We are here because the prosecution will not accept the fact that this case is receiving stolen property,” Gorman said. “They want it to be about more, and they're wrong.”
Lucas said Stepko lived in a patch town home devoid of luxury.
When neighbors had not seen Stepko for days, they called police, who found her at the bottom of her basement stairs. She had two stab wounds to the neck.
Authorities found tens of thousands of dollars – much of it old bills – hidden in the house.
When authorities found David A. and Diane McClelland at a Sam's Club store, they were driving a luxury car and in possession of cash similar to the older bill found in Stepko's home, Lucas said.
Investigators found receipts from purchases of more than $100,000 at the McClellands' home – a stark contrast to their modest combined annual income of $37,000, Lucas said.
“It's that trail of evidence that brings us here,” Lucas said.
Gorman agreed with the facts laid out by Lucas.
“So why are we here if everything he said is true? The reason we're here is because this case involves a theft, not a conspiracy,” Gorman said.
Gorman made that point in a sidebar discussion with Judge John DiSalle before the afternoon session began. Gorman stipulated that his client confirmed the receiving stolen property charge. The discussion took place out of earshot of the jurors, and Lucas and Gorman never agreed on the amount of stolen money Diane McClelland received.
Gorman said in opening remarks that while the murder of Stepko was horrible, Diane McClelland was not involved and had no prior knowledge that her husband would kill their neighbor.
Lucas called 12 witnesses Tuesday.
State Trooper Richard Hunter described a trail of blood splotches in Stepko's house that led to her body.
State police Cpl. Randy Mocello said David A. McClelland's fingerprint was found on the blood-spotted latex glove at the scene.
Dr. Alex Glossner testified that David A. McClelland's DNA was found on the glove. He testified under cross-examination that the glove was not tested for Diane McClelland's DNA.
California police Chief Rich Encapera and officers Timothy Sheehan and Curtis Rice testified they investigated reports by Stepko in August 2009, June 2010 and May 2011 that her home had been robbed of cash ranging from $600 to $10,000.
Neighbor Dale Huffman said he repaired telephone lines at Stepko's home after they were cut less than two months before her death.
Neighbor Loretta Nairn testified she called 911 on July 18, 2011, after neighbors had not seen Stepko outside her home for a couple days.
The trial was expected to resume Wednesday.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org