WEST CHESTER, Pa. — A man has been sentenced to life in prison plus 10 to 20 years in the 2014 beating death of his former girlfriend’s 3-year-old son near Philadelphia.

Gary Lee Fellenbaum III, 26, was sentenced Friday after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in the November 2014 death of Scott McMillan in a mobile home in West Caln Township.

Under a plea deal, Chester County prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty, a decision District Attorney Thomas Hogan said was made to spare another child from having to testify.

“Gary Lee Fellenbaum’s life was spared because of a child,” Hogan said at a press conference following the plea, noting the irony. “His life was spared because of one of the children he beat.”

The boy’s mother, Jillian Tait, pleaded guilty earlier to third-degree murder and conspiracy and Fellenbaum’s estranged wife also pleaded guilty to endangerment charges. They are awaiting sentencing. Both had agreed to testify against the defendant, whose trial had been scheduled to begin in less than two weeks.

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. 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.

Fellenbaum also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder, aggravated assault, and possessing an instrument of a crime.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone read a note in court written by the other child sometime after the boy’s death, addressed to “Dear Scotty.”

“I am so sorry that you got killed by Gary. I was trying to protect you,” the note read. “I have good news and bad news. The good news is Gary is in jail. The bad news is you are in heaven and not with me.”

This story has been corrected to note that the defendant’s age is 26 rather than 25.

Author photo
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.