Testimony in murder conspiracy trial focuses on musty money found in Coal Center home

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Washington County jury heard more testimony Thursday from state troopers who confiscated tens of thousands of dollars in “old, musty-smelling money” from the house of a Coal Center woman on trial for conspiring to murder her neighbor.

Diane McClelland, 50, of 16 School St. allegedly conspired with her husband, David A. McClelland, 58, and stepson, David J., 37, in the July 18, 2011, murder of her 92-year-old neighbor, Evelyn Stepko.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Lucas is attempting to prove to jurors that Diane McClelland, a grocery clerk who earned $22,000 a year, conspired with her unemployed husband and stepson to repeatedly rob and eventually murder Stepko, a widow who kept her life savings hidden throughout her home.

State police Cpl. Louis Reda testified that he and Trooper Timothy Mott searched the McClellands' home after the arrest of David A. McClelland and found $16,580 in older currency. Prosecutors claim the money was similar to the “musty-smelling” currency investigators recovered from Stepko's home after her murder.

Reda testified he found $6,480 in bills dated in the 1960s in a box stashed in a television stand.

“At least one of the bills was from 1964. The currency had a distinct smell of must ... a moldy smell to it,” Reda said.

“It wasn't the kind of currency you get out of a MAC machine,” he added.

On Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from several troopers about how the McClellands spent large sums of cash after they began burglarizing Stepko's home in 2009. They paid cash for a $46,806 Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicle and a pair of $1,020 moccasins and went on numerous gambling junkets.

Mott testified he searched a master bedroom and “a Steelers room” at the McClellands' home, where he recovered $10,100 and nine firearms.

Under questioning from Lucas, Mott noted the guns, all purchased with cash, “were not cheap.”

He estimated the value of the weapons — they included an AK-47; two Taurus handguns, a Thompson “Tommy” machine gun; a Sega semiautomatic shotgun and a Marlin bolt-action rifle — at more than $4,200.

Mott said sales receipts showed many of the guns had been purchased since 2009 from Pfrogner's Firearms shop in Coal Center.

Jurors listened to testimony from Steve Slogik of Altoona, who owned two acres of property that abutted the McClellands' home. Slogik said he had talked with the McClellands for five years about selling the property, but they didn't have enough money. But things changed in a chance meeting with David A. McClelland in September 2010 when Slogik was in town attending a funeral, he testified.

Slogik said he asked McClelland if he wanted to buy the property for $5,000, and McClelland countered with an offer of $4,500.

“I told him if he came up with the money, it's yours. (McClelland) said he had to talk to his wife because she took care of finances,” Slogik said.

The property deal was finalized in February 2011, according to county records.

Slogik testified he received a check for $4,500 with Diane McClelland's signature.

Although Diane McClelland has remained composed during the trial, she broke down in tears in the hallway outside the courtroom at the midday break Thursday and was comforted by friends and family. The emotional breakdown was not in the view of jurors.

McClelland has told troopers she had no knowledge of numerous robberies and thefts Stepko had reported to police before she was stabbed twice in the neck, beaten and left to die in her basement on July 18, 2011. She claimed she had no idea her neighbor kept tens of thousands of dollars hidden in her home.

In addition to conspiracy to commit homicide, she is on trial on charges of 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.

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.

The prosecution could conclude its case against Diane McClelland today. Judge John F. DiSalle is presiding.

Chris Buckley and Paul Pierce are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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