Chesco man accused in 3-year-old’s death says he only ‘spanked’ boy

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A Chester County man accused of fatally beating his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son in 2014 acknowledged Monday that he had struck the boy, but insisted he didn’t kill him or even know he had died.

“I did lay a hand on him a very limited amount,” Gary Lee Fellenbaum III told a judge in West Chester. “I spanked his hind end.”

Fellenbaum’s testimony came toward the end of a daylong pretrial hearing where his lawyer argued prosecutors shouldn’t be allowed to introduce statements he gave to  detectives in the hours after the November 2014 death of Scott McMillan.  

Prosecutors say Fellenbaum, 25, and his former girlfriend, Jillian Tait, 33, beat the 3-year-old boy — and his 6-year-old brother — with their fists, metal rods, frying pans and whips at the couple’s West Caln Township mobile home. Police said they also hung the boys upside down by their feet and hit them.

Tait and Fellenbaum’s wife pleaded guilty to related charges against them last week and agreed to testify against Fellenbaum at his murder trial.

On Monday, however, Fellenbaum said he wasn’t to blame and didn’t even know the boy was dead when officers brought him to the township police building that night. He said he thought they were investigating a complaint of child abuse.

Acording to a transcript read aloud in court, a detective told the defendant two hours into his interview on Nov. 5, 2014 that Scott was dead. “You didn’t beat him to bruising,” the detective said. “You beat him to death.”

Fellenbaum testified that if he had known Scott was dead he would have asked for an attorney and would not have spoken to detectives. His lawyer, George S. Yacoubian Jr., argued that was grounds for Judge William P. Mahon to exclude the statement at trial.  Yacoubian said his client was subjected to “deceptive tactics of police.”

Prosecutors argued Fellenbaum had to have known the boy was dead because of the extent of his injuries and his unresponsive state. 

“It was no mystery to this defendant what Scott’s condition was when he sat down with the detective,” said Michael Noone, Chester County’s first assistant district attorney.

He showed Fellenbaum photos of Scott’s bruise-covered body. Fellenbaum acknowledged the pictures in a flat voice. He said he saw his girlfriend and his wife beat the boy.

“His mother advised me he wasn’t breathing,” Fellenbaum said. He told his wife to call 911 “because little Scotty was unresponsive,” he told the judge.

Noone also noted that Fellenbaum continued to talk to a detective in a second interview after the officer said Scott was dead.

Mahon said he will decide at a later date whether to let prosecutors introduce Fellenbaum’s statement at trial.

The judge on Monday also ruled Fellenbaum competent to stand trial, adopting the findings of a psychiatric evaluation. And he denied – at least for now – a request by the defense lawyer for a change of trial venue or to pick a jury from outside the county.

Mahon said he wasn’t swayed by Yacoubian’s claim that pretrial publicity has tainted the possible jury pool.

“It’s not my impression at this point the court would be incapable of selecting a fair and unbiased jury based on the evidence presented at this point,” he said. 

Fellenbaum’s trial is scheduled to start in September. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

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