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McClelland convicted in death of Washington County neighbor

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Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
David J. McClelland of Califorinia was convicted of second-degree murder for the July 2011 murder of his neighbor, Evelyn Stepko, 92, of Coal Center. A Washington County jury on Tuesday, April 9, 2013, rejected the former policeman’s claim that he had nothing to do with her killing.

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By Chris Buckley and Paul Peirce
Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 3:48 p.m.
 

A Washington County jury on Tuesday rejected a former policeman's claim that he had nothing to do with killing his 92-year-old neighbor and convicted him of second-degree murder.

Jurors deliberated for slightly more than two hours before finding David J. “D.J.” McClelland, 38, of California, guilty of second-degree murder, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, receiving stolen property, aiding in the consummation of a crime and three counts of conspiracy.

McClelland, who was working as a part-time Washington Township policeman at the time of his arrest, will serve a life sentence without the chance at parole for the murder of Evelyn Stepko, whose home was repeatedly burglarized by the McClelland family.

Police testified the McClelland family stole more than $200,000 that Stepko kept hidden throughout her modest home. They spent it on property, vehicles, hunting equipment, a swimming pool, an outdoor jacuzzi and gambling sprees.

Stepko was found dead July 18, 2011, in the basement of her Coal Center home after police went there because neighbors reported not seeing her for several days.

Immediately after the verdict, Stepko's niece, Dolores Sprowls, hugged state police Trooper Louis Serafini in the hallway outside Judge John F. DiSalle's courtroom. McClelland's father, David A. McClelland, 58, pleaded guilty to the burglaries and murder, and his stepmother, Diane McClelland, 50, was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to commit homicide and receiving stolen property.

“I'm happy; the family is happy. I'm glad all three got what they deserve. He could have saved Aunt Evelyn if he had turned in his father,” Sprowls said.

Sprowls said she plans to testify at McClelland's formal sentencing hearing in 90 days.

“I plan to tell D.J., ‘You were a cop, and cops are supposed to protect people,'” she said.

Stepko died of two stab wounds in the neck and of blunt-force trauma of the chest, which resulted in several broken ribs, according to testimony. One wound sliced her jugular vein.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas told jurors that McClelland and his father burglarized Stepko's home several times in the years before her death, stealing more than $200,000 in cash.

“D.J.” McClelland testified that he spent some of that cash, even though he knew it was stolen from Stepko. He claimed his father was the sole burglar who repeatedly preyed upon Stepko.

Investigators said they found about $82,000 in Stepko's home after the slaying.

David A. McClelland pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder, burglary, robbery, theft by unlawful taking, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities and three counts of conspiracy to avoid the death penalty.

He is serving a life sentence for the murder conviction and up to 42 years in prison on the other charges.

Diane McClelland was convicted last month of conspiracy to commit homicide and receiving stolen property. She faces a potential prison term of up to 74 years.

Defense attorney Josh Camson said he plans an appeal because there was insufficient evidence for a murder conviction against “D.J.” McClelland.

Chris Buckley and Paul Peirce are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Buckley can be reached at cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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