WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — A judge has ruled a man competent for his capital murder trial in the beating death of his former girlfriend's young son and initially declined a defense request to move the proceedings or bring in an outside jury.
The man, Gary Lee Fellenbaum III, is scheduled for trial in September in the death of 3-year-old Scott McMillan. District Attorney Thomas Hogan has said the boy "was systematically tortured and beaten to death" in 2014 in a mobile home in West Caln Township.
Judge William P. Mahon, who ordered a psychological evaluation of Fellenbaum in January, ruled on Monday that the defendant is competent for trial in Chester County. Defense attorney George Yacoubian Jr. didn't immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.
Yacoubian, citing newspaper reports, social media posts and other publicity, said in court that "there is probably enough pretrial publicity" to warrant bringing up an outside jury. But Michael Noone, the county's first assistant district attorney, argued that publicity was not "so extensive, sustained and pervasive" to warrant such an action, and the judge said he agreed for the moment.
"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," the judge said, but he added that the issue could be revisited if there was trouble assembling a panel.
The boy's mother, Jillian Tait, pleaded guilty last week to third-degree murder and conspiracy and agreed to testify against Fellenbaum. Prosecutors have said they plan to seek the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder.
Authorities said the couple had met working at a Wal-Mart several months earlier and moved in together in a mobile home park along with Fellenbaum's estranged wife, Tait's 6- and 3-year-old children and the Fellenbaums' 11-month-old daughter. Authorities alleged in court documents that spankings turned to abuse and the victim was finally "punched and beaten with blunt and sharp objects, whipped, taped to a chair with electrical tape and beaten, hung up by his feet and beaten and suffered other acts of violence."
Prosecutors also alleged the couple went car shopping, bought pizza and engaged in sexual activity as the boy lay dying after weeks of escalating abuse.