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Evidence from burglaries will prove California man's involvement in Coal Center murder, prosecutor says

Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Daveid J. McClelland of California is escorted out of the Washington County Courthouse by Deputy Sheriffs ,where he is on trail for the murder of Evelyn Stepko of Coal Center in July of 2011. On April 3,2013.

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By Chris Buckley and Paul Peirce
Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

A Washington County prosecutor told jurors during his opening argument Wednesday that many of them may question why anyone would murder 92-year-old Evelyn Stepko, who led a quiet life in Coal Center.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas then answered his own question in the murder trial of David J. McClelland, 28, of California Borough, who is accused of killing Stepko at her home in 2011.

“The why? It's greed,” Lucas said.

Lucas told jurors that prosecutors will show that while Stepko led a simple life without luxuries, McClelland spent a lot of cash over the last two years.

“David J. McClelland had the toys one would have when one would have a lot of extra cash,” Lucas said.

Lucas told jurors that evidence from a series of burglaries at Stepko's home will prove McClelland's involvement.

A part-time Washington Township police officer at the time of the murder, McClelland is accused of killing Stepko, his father's neighbor, in order to loot the widow's life savings.

Stepko was found dead at the bottom of her basement stairs by police on July 18, 2011, after neighbors reported they hadn't seen her for several days. She died of two stab wounds to the neck — one sliced her jugular vein — and blunt-force trauma to the chest, which resulted in several broken ribs, according to the county coroner.

Prosecutors believe McClelland and his father, David A. McClelland, burglarized Stepko's home several times in recent years. She kept large amounts of cash in the modest house where she had lived all of her life, police said. Investigators said they recovered about $82,000 from Stepko's home after her death.

Defense attorney Josh Camson said in his opening that his client received $20,000 in June 2010 and again in February 2011, knowing that it was stolen.

While admitting that McClelland “was arrogant and spent money lavishly, he did not participate knowingly in the burglaries,” Camson said.

Camson said McClelland plans to testify at the trial.

Firefighter Donald Towner testified that Stepko's body was discovered face down in the basement. He said her body was twisted and partially clothed.

Bank teller Linda Jellick testified that McClelland was wearing his police uniform when he deposited a large sum at First National Bank in Rostraver on Aug. 22, 2009. She said McClelland told her he needed to make the $1,857 deposit into the account of his stepmother, Diane McClelland.

Prior to the trial, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty in David J. McClelland's case.

David A. McClelland, 58, has 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, the elder McClelland avoided a possible death penalty.

David J. McClelland is charged with criminal homicide, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, receiving stolen property, aiding in the commission of a crime, and three counts of conspiracy.

Diane McClelland, wife of David A. McClelland and stepmother of David J. McClelland, was convicted last month of conspiracy to commit homicide, receiving stolen property, hindering apprehension or prosecution, dealing with proceeds of unlawful activities and criminal conspiracy.

The trial will resume this morning before Judge Joseph F. DiSalle and is expected to continue into next week.

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