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McClelland guilty in Stepko slay case

| Saturday, March 2, 2013, 12:21 a.m.

Diane McClelland wept softly Friday evening as a Washington County jury found her guilty on all counts for her role in the murder of her 92-year-old neighbor in 2011.

The weight of her situation apparently hit home as guards placed handcuffs on the California woman who spent thousands of dollars taken from Evelyn Stepko's home in a series of burglaries.

McClelland, who had been free on bond, appeared to become woozy in the moments before she was carted off to the Washington County Correctional Facility.

She slipped back into her chair in Judge John DiSalle's courtroom and then rested her head on the desk in front of her.

As McClelland was led from the courtroom, Stepko's niece, Delores Sprowls, said, “That's two down, one to go.”

Sprowls said her family was happy.

“She deserves everything she gets,” Sprowls said of McClelland. “She was there with her husband and stepson. They should never have done that to Aunt Evelyn.”

The jury deliberated for just short of three hours before deciding McClelland, 50, of 16 School St. conspired with her husband, David A. McClelland, 58, to murder Stepko.

Police claim her stepson, David J. McClelland, 37, was also in on the scheme. He is scheduled to stand trial April 1.

Investigators claim the McClellands took tens of thousands of dollars from Stepko's house and spent it on vehicles, land, expensive furnishings and casino trips.

After police found Stepko stabbed to death in July 2011, they discovered large amounts of money in her modest house.

Sprowls said Diane McClelland was, “greedy, just like her husband.”

David A. McClelland is serving life in prison with no chance for parole. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and other charges in a plea bargain that allowed him to avoid a possible death sentence.

Washington County First Assistant District Attorney Mike Lucas expressed pleasure with the verdict in a “tedious case.”

“It was a first-rate effort by the jury, just as it was a first-rate effort by the Pennsylvania State Police,” Lucas said. “It was a white-collar crime but with blue-collar participants — with deadly consequences.”

Defense attorney Brian Gorman declined comment after the verdict was read.

Lucas said prosecutors offered Diane McClelland a plea bargain to conspiracy and other charges that would have carried a 10- to 20-year sentence.

She now faces 37 to 74 years in prison.

Take your time

In his closing argument, Gorman warned against a “Friday afternoon verdict.”

“I know there's an overwhelming desire to get on with your lives,” Gorman said.

“But due to the importance of this case and everyone involved in it, in no way can your deliberations or verdict be compromised by your willingness to go home.”

Gorman said the “overwhelming evidence” in the case pointed to a conviction of receiving stolen property, a charge to which he stipulated Diane McClelland's guilt.

Gorman said his client could have, perhaps should have, taken action to stop her husband from committing the burglaries.

“But no matter how much you do not like Diane for what she did, that's not why you render a verdict,” Gorman said.

“You render a verdict because the other elements of the crimes do not exist here. We cannot let our emotions get in the way of our application of the law.”

Gorman said the commonwealth got its killer when David A. McClelland pleaded guilty.

Gorman warned the jury against engaging in speculation. He said criminal conspiracy requires an agreement to commit future crimes, claiming that element did not exist in this case. Instead, he said Diane McClelland “turned a blind eye” to what her husband was doing.

“Failure to be a Good Samaritan is not a crime,” Gorman said.

In his closing argument, Lucas said the case was unusual, because the two sides agreed on facts but argued over application of the law.

Lucas noted Diane McClelland's contradictory statements to state troopers.

“When someone lies and tells different stories, that's a window into their mind,” Lucas said.

Lucas said Diane McClelland was “driving the finances” in their household.

“There was a deference (David A. McClelland) was paying to her, because she was in control,” Lucas said.

Lucas said there was no legitimate source of the tens of thousands of dollars Diane McClelland was depositing or spending.

“That's not turning a blind eye, that's rolling in it, enjoying it,” Lucas said.

He told the jury, “I don't want you to stick it to her. I just want you to hold her accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

Trooper John Turbin displayed a timeline he assembled contrasting bank deposits and luxurious expenditures that Diane and David A. McClelland made in the days after each of the five burglaries Stepko reported at her house between August 2009 and May 2011. The money included $33,879.84 in cash purchases, $36,000 in bank deposits, $14,500 in property purchases and $56,538.75 for two vehicles.

Jurors heard witnesses testify during the four-day trial that the trio went on numerous shopping sprees for such items as a $46,800 sport utility vehicle, expensive firearms, a swimming pool and numerous gambling junkets.

Tobin testified that the McClellands' bank records showed large influxes from August 2009 through July 2011.

In police interviews after Stepko's murder, Diane McClelland said her husband won $80,000 in a private lottery and that the couple won big at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino and a Massachusetts casino.

Stepko's friends have described the elderly widow as a private woman who shied away from banks after living through the Great Depression.

They said she chose to stash her life savings in envelopes hidden throughout her home.

On Friday, jurors heard from Trooper Louis J. Serafini, who said that one month after Stepko's body was discovered in her basement, Diane McClelland admitted for the first time she knew her husband had burglarized the woman's home.

Serafini's testimony countered statements from several other witnesses who claimed Diane McClelland said she did not know her husband and stepson had looted Stepko's house.

Serafini testified that he repeatedly pressed Diane McClelland during a more than two-hour interview Aug. 22, 2011, for an explanation how the couple was able to afford such expensive items.

She made $22,000 a year as a grocery store clerk, and David A. McClelland was unemployed.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or Trib Total Media staff writer Paul Peirce contributed to this report.

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