Money trail blazed in Stepko slay trial
In September 2010, Steve Slogik traveled to see two acres of land his family owned in the Granville section of California that he'd been trying to sell since his mother's death five years earlier.
By chance, he met David A. McClelland, with whom he had been informally talking about the property. Ultimately, McClelland agreed to purchase the land that abutted his homestead.
“He said, ‘What about $4,500?” recalled Slogik, testifying Thursday in Washington County Court in the murder trial of McClelland's wife, Diane, who faces numerous criminal counts for her alleged role in the July 2011 murder of her neighbor, Evelyn Stepko, 92.
“I said, ‘If you can come up with the money, it's yours,” Slogik said. “He said he'd talk to his wife, because she takes care of the finances.”
Diane McClelland is charged with conspiracy to commit homicide, receiving stolen property, hindering apprehension or prosecution, dealing with proceeds of unlawful activities, and criminal conspiracy.
David A. McClelland, 58, has already 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 is serving a life prison term, without chance for parole, for the murder conviction and up to 42 years on the other charges. By accepting the plea deal, 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.
In a third day of testimony, prosecutors attempted to establish a money trail that led to local banks and the McClellands' home.
Slogik testified that negotiations for the sale involved only David A. McClelland. However, he said Diane McClelland signed the $4,500 check he received.
Danny Fowkes testified that he sold his mother's house to David A. McClelland for $10,000 on Oct. 1, 2010. He said David A. McClelland gave him a brown grocery bag filled with currency that had “a musty, bad odor.”
“I said, ‘Dave, where the hell have you been keeping this money? It stinks!'” Fowkes said. “He said he had been keeping it in his basement, and it's damp down there.”
Fowkes testified that Diane McClelland signed the sales agreement.
Fowkes said David A. McClelland told him and his brother, James Fowkes, that he won more than $100,000 on three tickets, including $85,000 on a “Volkswagen” ticket.
That prompted Judge John DiSalle to question how long it had been since the former auto assembly plant near New Stanton had operated.
It closed in 1988.
The question spurred a more spirited response from James Fowkes, his brother testified.
“My brother said, ‘You gotta be the luckiest SOB around. I can't even hit a dollar ticket, and you won three times within a month,'” Danny Fowkes testified.
Danny Fowkes said he has known David A. McClelland throughout his life, adding the man performed work around Fowkes' mother's home and once found her when she fell in her home.
“It's ironic how it all worked out,” Fowkes said of his testimony Thursday. “I'm indebted to Dave. He did a lot to take care of my mom.”
Several bank employees testified about the McClellands' financial activity, often with unusual money.
First Niagara Bank employee Diane Ventura testified that money Fowkes brought to the bank was sticking together.
Three employees of the First National Bank in Rostraver Township testified about various cash deposits made by Diane McClelland from 2009 through 2011. Assistant Manager Patricia Ferree said that after Diane McClelland made a $2,500 deposit Sept. 2, 2010, the money was removed from circulation because it was so old.
State police Cpl. Louis Reda testified that he recovered several thousand dollars from the McClellands' living room, including $6,480 in a box on a TV stand.
Reda said the money had a distinct “musty, moldy smell to it.” He recalled that at least one bill was from 1964.
“It wasn't the kind of currency you'd get out of a MAC machine,” Reda said.
State Trooper Timothy Mott testified that he toook nine guns from the McCllelland home – two from the master bedroom and seven from the basement.
Mott, assigned by the state police to investigate gun crimes in conjunction with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, estimated the value of the weapons at roughly $4,200.
He testified that he recovered receipts from the home for the weapons, all purchased by David A. McClelland with cash. The weapons comprised two Taurus pistols, a Thompson semi-automatic rifle known as a “Tommy gun,” an AK-47 rifle and several shotguns. Mott said he found $10,100 cash that had a “musty odor.”
State police Cpl. Joseph Panepinto testified that while searching the McClelland home, he found receipts for various expensive items the couple had purchased.
Tax return records he found indicated a combined annual income of roughly $37,000 for the couple.
Panepinto testified he found an Equibank bag in the McClelland home that matched a bank bag from the now-nonexistent bank that police found in Stepko's home.
State Trooper Charles Morrison testified that he searched David J. McClelland's home July 22, 2011, and found various firearms valued at $8,000 to $11,000. He testified that he also found $2,020 in a safe. The bills carried dates from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Defense attorney Brian Gorman objected to Morrison's testimony, saying it dealt with David J. McClelland's spending habits, not those of Diane McClelland.
Assistant District Attorney Mike Lucas said the testimony established the conspiracy in which prosecutors claim Diane McClelland is involved.
Although Diane McClelland has appeared composed throughout the trial, she broke down and was comforted by friends at the midday break.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.