Here Are Two People Who Need to Die

Pennsylvania hasn't executed anyone since Gary Heidnik. Gary Fellenbaum and Jillian Tait deserve to be next.

Gary Fellenbaum and Jilian Tait

Gary Fellenbaum and Jillian Tait

I’m normally not a big fan of the death penalty. It’s cruel. It unfairly targets minorities. And there are differing opinions as to whether it actually makes society any safer.

But when, after breathing a big sigh of relief when kidnapping victim Carlesha Freeland-Gaither was found safe in Maryland thanks to the massive efforts put forth by police there and in Philadelphia and Virginia, I saw the beyond-tragic story out of Chester County of the 3-year-old boy allegedly tortured and beaten to death by his mother and her boyfriend for not eating his breakfast, my immediate reaction — and, based on conversations I’ve had with others, a not uncommon one — was: These people need to die.

Not by some vigilante justice outside of the courthouse or a shiv in the jailhouse shower. No, if the jury agrees with the public opinion, then the state that has 197 people on death row but that has not executed a criminal since 1999 — when deranged woman-torturer and killer Gary Heidnik was given a lethal injection, Pennsylvania’s only approved execution method — needs to strap them down and end their putrid lives, and not without cruelty.

Oh, it’s easy to pound our chests and demand the fiercest form of justice when things like this happen, and frequently, that chest-pounding is misplaced.


Scott McMillan

I remember when a mother and her three children died earlier this year, killed by two men who allegedly raped and carjacked another woman, there were those who called for the death penalty for the men charged with the crime.

That was a horrible crime, to be sure. And the men involved, if convicted, will have to live with the consequences of it for the rest of their lives.

But the death penalty must be reserved for the most evil of crimes, the ones that we can barely read about, like the aforementioned Gary Heidnik, who preyed on mentally challenged women, jailed them in his basement and rammed a screwdriver into their ears. Two women died at his hands. The others’ lives would never be the same. Pure evil.

Similarly, Chester County’s Jillian Tait, 31, and her boyfriend, 23-year-old Gary Fellenbaum, are charged with going on a three-day beating and torture spree on Tait’s 3-year-old son Scott McMillan. That spree ended with the boy’s death.

Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan, who has invoked the name of the popular show American Horror Story to describe the crime, alleges that Tait and Fellenbaum beat her son with aluminum siding. But that wasn’t enough. No, they are also accused of using tape to strap his little body to a chair and then then punch him while he was restrained, because clearly two adults need to restrain a 3-year-old boy if they want to pummel him with their fists. Was that enough torture? No, says Hogan, who also alleges that they hung the boy — again, this is Tait’s son that we’re talking about — upside down and laughed at him.

Hogan has said that he does intend to seek the death penalty, and bravo for that Mr. Prosecutor.

But don’t stop there.

The long arm of the law shouldn’t rest when those chemicals are plunged into the bodies of the perpetrators —and I don’t think I’m overstating this when I say that this might be a good occasion to revisit the electric chair, firing squad, public hanging, or any other so-called “cruel and unusual” punishments, because lethal injection is way too subtle. There is no doubt in my mind that somebody had at least a suspicion if not absolute knowledge that something was wrong in this household, and if that is true, well, there is blood on their hands, too.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that the carjacking and rape victim died. We regret the error.

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