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2nd defendant's trial opens in Washington County widow's slaying

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Diane McClelland of Coal Center, Washington County, is accused of one burglary at the home of her elderly neighbor, Evelyn Stepko, who allegedly was murdered by McClelland's husband at her Washington County home.

A Washington County prosecutor told a jury on Tuesday that a Coal Center family's greed and obsession over a 92-year-old widow's life savings led to her murder.

Although Diane McClelland, 50, of 16 School St. is not charged with murdering Evelyn Stepko on July 18, 2011, she went on multiple shopping sprees and gambled at a casino with thousands of dollars her husband and stepson looted from their elderly neighbor's home, Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas told jurors.

“We're here today, I submit to you, because the greed over Evelyn Stepko's money brought us here,” Lucas told jurors.

Lucas said Stepko lived a “simple” life in the modest row house where she spent her entire life, the past 17 years alone. Instead of using banks, she kept piles of cash — her life savings — hidden throughout the house.

Investigators discovered about $70,000 stuffed in envelopes after her murder, he said.

She was found dead in the basement, her arms marred by defensive wounds left by attempts to fend off her attacker, according to testimony.

Diane McClelland is on trial for conspiracy to commit homicide. She was charged with 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, avoided a potential death sentence by pleading guilty to criminal homicide and multiple related charges, including burglary and robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole on the murder conviction, plus 21 to 42 years on the other charges. He was ordered to repay $215,800 to Stepko's estate.

His son, David J. McClelland, 37, a part-time Washington Township, Fayette County, police officer at the time of the murder, is charged with criminal homicide. He is scheduled for trial on charges of 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 go on trial in April.

Diane McClelland's attorney, Brian Gorman, attempted to distance his client from the murder during his opening statement Tuesday. He denied any conspiracy between Diane McClelland, her husband and her stepson.

“We're here because the prosecution will not accept the fact that this case is receiving stolen property. They want it to be about more, and they are wrong,” Gorman said.

Police found Stepko's body on July 18, 2011. She died of two stab wounds to the neck and blunt-force trauma to the chest, testified Dr. Abdulrezak Shakir, a forensic pathologist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.

Under questioning from Lucas, Shakir told jurors that Stepko suffered broken ribs and defensive wounds on her arms.

Prosecutors believe the men had burglarized Stepko's home several times between 2009 and 2011. State police allege Diane McClelland spent thousands of dollars taken in those robberies.

When police questioned her about several large bank transactions after the murder, Diane McClelland, who had worked as a cashier at a local Shop 'n Save, said her husband won $85,000 on a private lottery, nearly $25,000 at a casino in Massachusetts and $5,500 at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane.

But at McClelland's preliminary hearing, state Trooper Louis J. Serafini testified that records at The Meadows indicated the McClellands actually lost $2,908 at the casino.

Testimony continues on Wednesday before Judge John DiSalle.

Chris Buckley and Paul Peirce are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Buckley can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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