Allegedly starved twins face serious medical problems

By Daniel Silliman


Almost two weeks after allegedly starved twins were taken to the hospital, the 13-month-old boys are beginning to gain weight, Clayton County Police said.

According to doctors, however, the infants still face serious medical challenges. Weighing about nine pounds -- 18 to 30 pounds less than normal -- when admitted to Egleston's Children's Health Care of Atlanta, the boys have suffered rickets, "significant loss of brain function," brain atrophy, and are only mentally developed to the level of 2- or 3-month-old children, doctors told police.

Describing the condition of the boys to reporters, Police Chief Jeff Turner said: "They were starving, skin and bones," and looked like "something you would see in the Third World."

Turner, who has been a police officer since 1987, said it was the worst case of child neglect he had ever seen.

Dr. Karen Kagen told investigators that the stronger twin might have died in a few days, and the weaker one might have died in 12 hours, if they hadn't received medical attention, according to Clayton County court documents.

Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske ruled, in a hearing last week, that the children should be taken away from the parents, and custody has been given to the Department of Family and Children Services.

The twins' parents, James Alvin McCart, III, 23, and Tessa Zelek, 23, have been arrested on charges of cruelty to children and child deprivation. The boys' maternal grandmother, Christi Zelek, 51, has been arrested on charges of cruelty to children, child deprivation, and failure to report suspect child abuse, on allegations that she, an employee of the Henry County School Board, attempted to cover up the abuse in order to protect her daughter.

A Clayton County Magistrate judge has denied bond for Tessa Zelek; set bond at $120,000 for Christi Zelek, and set bond at $115,000 for McCart. All three remained in the county jail on Monday.

Police suspect drug abuse may have been involved in the neglect of the infants. Both parents were found unconscious, on Nov. 20. McCart tested positive for cocaine, when taken to the hospital, and Tessa Zelek refused to take a drug test.

Neither parent has previously been arrested on any drug-related charges.

McCart was previously in a Clayton County court on a second-degree arson charge. He pled guilty, in 2004, as a first offender and was sentenced to probation.

Upon sentencing, Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield urged him to straighten out his life. "You need to make sure that you make the right decisions," the judge told McCart, "including who you hang out with, what you're doing with your time, and who you're doing it with. You need to evaluate that real strongly."