EDITOR'S NOTE: The details of this case are graphic and may be upsetting for some readers.
A Chester County man accused of beating his girlfriend's son to death twiddled his thumbs as he appeared in court Thursday via video.
Gary Fellenbaum, the boy's mother Jillian Tait and Fellenbaum's estranged wife Amber Fellenbaum said little as each appeared separately in court on charges stemming from the beating death of a 3-year-old Scotty McMillan. Prosecutors called the abuse "an American horror."
The 23-year-old man accused of brutally abusing and killing his girlfriend’s son, twiddled his thumbs, looking down as he waived his right to a preliminary hearing in the death, according to witnesses in the courtroom.
Gary Fellenbaum and Tait face first-degree murder, child endangerment, assault and related charges stemming from the death of the 3-year-old West Caln, Pennsylvania boy last month. Amber Fellenbaum faces child endangerment charges.
Each suspect appeared via video uplink as they waived their rights to preliminary hearings. Fellenbaum wore blue prison pants while the women each wore a green jumpsuit. Tait and Gary Fellenbaum each thanked the judge at the end of their hearings while Amber Fellenbaum remained silent.
All three suspects remain in isolation in state jail, said prosecutors.
McMillan died from what investigators said was abuse at the hand of his mother and her boyfriend inside a West Caln Township trailer home that Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan called an “American horror.”
"(Scotty) was systematically tortured and beaten to death,” said Hogan when he annouced the arrests in early November. "He was punched in the face and in the stomach, he was scourged with a homemade whip, he was lashed with a metal rod, he was tied to a chair and beaten, he was tied upside down by his feet and beaten, his head was smashed through a wall and at the end of that he had bruises on top of bruises all over his body.”
The abuse occurred over a two-week period dating back to October in the Hope Lane home located about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, according to investigators.
Hogan said Scotty's mother sometimes watched the abuse and laughed.
Police said Gary Fellenbaum met Tait at a local Wal-Mart where they worked together. Tait and her two sons — Scotty and his 6-year-old brother — moved in with Fellenbaum in mid-October and the abuse began shortly thereafter, said investigators.
NBC10 is not naming this surviving boy since authorities said he is a victim of child abuse.
Fellenbaum expressed remorse that "his physical assaults caused another's death," according to a criminal complaint obtained by NBC10.
Amber Fellenbaum earlier told investigators she first became aware of the alleged abuse when she saw Fellenbaum spank Scotty after the boy didn’t respond to Fellenbaum. She also said she saw Fellenbaum and Tait beat Scotty with a green frying pan and saw Fellenbaum tape Scotty to a chair and severely pummel the boy’s face and stomach.
The county took the older brother and the Fellenbaums' 11-month-old daughter into protective custody.