Growing up, Carol Houck said, she was verbally, physically, and sexually abused. She was too frightened to tell anyone what was happening. Although she suspected her neighbors knew something was not right, she never got the rescue she hoped for.

"I wanted someone to speak up for me. No one spoke up for me," said Houck, 57. "I'm alive and well, and Scotty isn't. So I wanted to speak up."

Houck and about 20 other demonstrators stood outside the Chester County Justice Center on Wednesday morning to try to raise awareness about child abuse. Inside, a mother and her boyfriend pleaded not guilty to charges in the torture and beating death of the woman's 3-year-old son, Scott McMillan.

The District Attorney's Office also formally informed the defendants at their arraignments that it would seek the death penalty because the boy died by torture and was younger than 12.

Police said 31-year-old Jillian Tait and her boyfriend, 23-year-old Gary Fellenbaum, beat Scott to death from Nov. 2 to 4. The abuse included hitting him with their fists and a homemade whip, hanging him upside down by his feet, and throwing him against a wall.

Through a video feed from the Chester County Prison, Tait and Fellenbaum appeared one at a time to hear the list of charges against them.

Fellenbaum, dressed in a white T-shirt with holes around the collar, sat with his hands folded in his lap, eyes staring at his lawyer's lap, where a packet of papers detailed the charges.

Tait, dressed in prison scrubs, sat next to her lawyer with her hands in her lap, looking straight ahead with eyes down.

"I'm not sure everything's hit her yet," Brenda Jones, her lawyer, said later. "She's holding up."

Neither defendant said a word.

But in freezing temperatures outside the courthouse in West Chester, area residents and members of the national and local chapters of Bikers Against Child Abuse said they were speaking out for Scott and all other abused children without a voice. That includes Scott's 6-year-old brother, who police said was also abused.

To symbolize the plight of abused children, some of the people put blue tape across their mouths. With gloved hands holding homemade signs, the group marched around the courthouse. Some pushed strollers carrying bundled-up toddlers. Some wore blue T-shirts with the slogan, "No Excuse for Child Abuse."

They stood on busy West Market Street with signs that read, "Peace Love Awareness," "Justice for Scotty," and "We 0 You." A teenage girl with blue tape over her mouth held a sign that read, "It Shouldn't Hurt to Be a Child."

Some signs listed the names of more than 50 people who wanted to show their support but could not come to the courthouse.

Many of those gathered said every minute in the cold was worth it if their signs could encourage people to speak up if they suspect someone of abusing a child.

"Even if it puts it in one person's head, that might be one more child that doesn't have to suffer," said Pamela Prichard, 46, who lives in Lancaster County.

Police said Amber Fellenbaum, Gary Fellenbaum's wife, lived in the West Caln Township mobile home where the abuse occurred but did not report it. She has been charged with child endangerment.

Those assembled outside the courthouse had hoped Tait and Gary Fellenbaum would plead guilty.

They said they would see the case through to the end. A group was at the couple's preliminary hearings last month in Honey Brook. They vow to be at every court proceeding.

Since the case involves the death penalty, it could take years to get to trial while the lawyers look for ways to avoid death sentences.

In the meantime, the people assembled at the courthouse said they plan to continue to raise awareness of child abuse with signs and Facebook campaigns.

Several mentioned "Walk for Scotty" events planned for April in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware for National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

They also said they plan to continue to raise money through T-shirt and sweatshirt sales for the trust fund set up for Scott's brother at DNB First, a bank in Chester County.

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207

@MichaelleBond