Chesco man competent for trial in death of 3-year-old boy, judge declares

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A Chester County man accused of fatally beating his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son in 2014 is competent to stand trial, a county judge ruled Monday.

Judge William P. Mahon had ordered a psychological evaluation in January for Gary Lee Fellenbaum III, after questions arose about the defendant’s state of mind. Along with his former girlfriend, Jillian Tait, 33, Fellenbaum, 25, was accused of beating her 3-year-old son and his 6-year-old brother with their fists, metal rods, frying pans and whips. Police said they also hung the boys upside down by their feet and hit them.

The abuse in Fellenbaum’s West Caln Township mobile home resulted in 3-year-old Scott McMillan’s death in November 2014.

The evaluation, completed in February, found Fellenbaum competent to stand trial. At a hearing Monday at the Chester County Justice Center, neither Fellenbaum’s attorney nor prosecutors objected to the findings.

George S. Yacoubian Jr., Fellenbaum’s attorney, did ask the judge for a change of venue for the trial or to obtain jurors from outside the county.

“There is probably enough pretrial publicity in this case to warrant bringing in a jury from outside Chester County,” he said, referring to newspaper reports and Facebook pages set up to raise money for the 3-year-old boy’s family.

But Michael Noone, the county’s first assistant district attorney, argued that publicity has not met the bar of being “so extensive, sustained and pervasive” that a community is saturated with it. He distinguished this case from two other cases using out-of-county juries — the upcoming trial of comedian Bill Cosby, charged with sexual assault in Montgomery County, and that of Eric Frein, charged with killing a state trooper in Pike County.

The judge said the request to change Fellenbaum’s trial venue was premature and ruled the court would start with a pool of Chester County residents and decide during jury selection whether choosing a jury is problematic.

“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.

The 3-year-old victim’s mother pleaded guilty last week to third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and related charges. Amber Fellenbaum, Gary Fellenbaum’s wife, who did report the abuse, pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of children and reckless endangerment. Both women agreed to testify against Fellenbaum.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against him.

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