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Suspect says she ignored cash influx

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Coal Center woman on trial for conspiring to murder her 92-year-old neighbor for money told state police that she did not concern herself with where her unemployed husband and stepson were acquiring large sums of cash, a state trooper testified Wednesday.

Trooper Frank Mysza told a Washington County jury that Diane McClelland, 50, of 16 School St. claimed in a July 2011 interview — four days after the murder of Evelyn Stepko — that she had no idea her neighbor kept tens of thousands of dollars in cash hidden throughout her home.

The $22,000-a-year grocery store clerk told troopers she had no knowledge of numerous robberies and thefts Stepko had reported to local police before she was stabbed twice in the neck, beaten and left to die in the basement of her home on July 18, 2011, Mysza said.

“(Diane McClelland) turned a blind eye” toward the source of her husband's newfound wealth between 2009 to 2011, Mysza testified under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas.

Diane McClelland is on trial for conspiracy to commit homicide. She is 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 related charges, including burglary and robbery.

He was sentenced to life in prison without a chance for 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 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 conspiracy. He is expected to go on trial in April.

Mysza and two other troopers testified Wednesday about details of Stepko's murder and the McClellands' spending sprees as they took the stand in the second day of the trial before Judge John F. DiSalle.

While Diane McClelland admitted to police that she and her husband had filed for bankruptcy in the mid-2000s, she told Mysza she did not ask where he and his son were obtaining thousands of dollars to spend on luxury vehicles, firearms and gambling trips.

“She said (David) always had cash. ... She just never questioned it. She said her husband had hit on an $85,000 private lottery ticket, hit several times at a Massachusetts casino and several times at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino (in North Strabane),” Mysza said.

But records at The Meadows showed the McClellands had lost $2,908 gambling there, according to testimony.

Trooper John F. Marshall said David McClelland was arrested July 22, 2011, while shopping with his wife at Sam's Club near Washington.

“He had a stiletto knife, a pill bottle containing white powder and $980 in cash,” Marshall said.

Marshall said the paper money was “old and musty-smelling” and one $100 bill was dated 1948.

Jurors heard Lucas describe more than $70,000 investigators found inside envelopes hidden throughout Stepko's home as old and musty, and some paper bills were moldy.

Trooper Todd Porter searched the 2009 Lincoln Navigator the McClellands were driving when David McClelland was arrested.

Among the items he found were receipts for cash and checks totaling $46,646 that Diane McClelland used to pay for the luxury sport utility vehicle at South Hills Lincoln-Mercury in 2010, he said. Records show she paid $11,750 in cash for a Pontiac G-6 on Sept. 9, 2010. She gave the vehicle to her stepson in March 2011.

Porter said a polka-dot wallet he found in the seat console contained 260 $20 bills, and a Crown Royal bag inside held 88 old $50 bills; a receipt for a pair of $1,020 moccasins; and a receipt for a pool liner that cost $350.

Under cross-examination by McClelland's attorney, Brian Gorman, Mysza admitted that when troopers questioned her stepson, David J. McClelland never told investigators that she knew about or was involved in the burglaries of Stepko's home.

Cheryl Jurik of Daisytown, a close friend of Stepko, said she last spoke with the elderly woman just before noon on July 17, 2011. Stepko always spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with Jurik's family, she said.

“Evelyn was like a mother to me. She was a private person. ... She didn't want anyone to know her business,” Jurik said.

“She was devastated by the robberies” at her home, but she never told her friend she suspected the McClellands, Jurik testified.

Jurik became emotional as she recalled the last words she heard from Stepko on the phone that day: “Hope you have a wonderful day.”

The trial is expected to resume this morning.

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