Washington County homicide trial begins

Man charged in robbery, death of 92-year-old neighbor

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Prosecutors in Washington County called public safety officials and a bank teller to testify this morning in the first day of a trial for former police officer David J. McClelland, who stands accused of a role in the killing a 92-year-old woman.

Mr. McClelland, 28, has been charged with criminal homicide and related offenses in the July 2011 stabbing death of Evelyn Stepko in Coal Center, just outside California.

Washington County Common Pleas Judge John F. DiSalle has set aside five days for the trial at the Washington County Courthouse. Prosecutors are trying to prove Mr. McClelland conspired with his father to burglarize Stepko's home and kill her for her money, which she stashed throughout her house.

Washington County Assistant District Attorney Mike Lucas referenced the idiom "in for a dime, in for a dollar" in his opening statements.

"In this case ... it was in for thousands, in for murder," he said.

Mr. McClelland's attorney, Josh Camson, said the jury may find his client, who goes by "D.J.," to be greedy and arrogant. But he assured the jurors Mr. McClelland did not kill Stepko.

Mr. McClelland accepted money stolen from Ms. Stepko's that his father gave him when the young man was down on his luck, Mr. Camson said, but his client had only heard of the killing after it happened.

"Should D.J. have said 'Dad, what are you doing?'" Mr. McClelland asked about accepting him the stolen money. "Yes."

"D.J. is not a murderer," he added. "He did not conspire to commit a murder."

Ms. Stepko's niece, Dolores Sprowls of Charleroi, said seeing for the first time an image of her aunt dead at the bottom of the stairs was incredibly difficult. She gasped when the prosecution displayed the photo before the court.

Ms. Sprowls said the younger Mr. McClelland deserves to be punished same as his father and stepmother.

"David, you knew where the money was coming from," she said. "You should have turned your father in when he gave you the first amount of money."

California volunteer firefighters -- one, Casey Durdines, who is also the borough's mayor -- and police officers testified about prior burglaries at Ms. Stepko's home across two years or about what they saw on July 18, 2011.

Volunteer firefighter Donald Towner testified that he responded to a 911 call from a friend of Ms. Stepko's, who worried that she hadn't heard from the woman in a while.

Mr. Towner testified that he saw Ms. Stepko lying face down on a dirt floor in the basement in a pool of blood, partially clothed, when he entered the home.

The bank teller testified that in 2009, a man in a police uniform came to First National Bank at the Rostraver Shop N Save and deposited money -- including $1,600 in cash -- into his stepmother Diane McClelland's account.

David Allen McClelland, 59, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in her death last fall and was sentenced to the mandatory term of life in prison without parole, plus 21 to 42 years for additional charges of burglary, robbery and conspiracy.

The defendants' wife and stepmother, Diane McClelland, 50, was convicted March 1 of conspiracy and other charges.

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 and on Twitter: @borntolede.


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