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Father sentenced in starving-infants case

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

A Lovejoy man was sentenced to 15 years in prison, to serve 12, Thursday, for nearly starving to death his infant twins in 2007.

Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said James McCart, 25, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield.

McCart was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, and ordered to have no contact with the twin boys, absent a court order, according to his attorney, Steve Frey.

The children's mother, Tessa Zelek, was tried and convicted last month in the case on similar charges, and was sentenced to 70 years in prison.

McCart testified against Zelek in her trial. McCart told the court that he and Tessa Zelek failed to feed the children for days at a time, because he and Zelek were strung out on prescription drugs. He said they forged documents in order to fill phony prescriptions.

McCart's sentence was in keeping with a plea deal that he was offered by prosecutors, according the district attorney's office.

During Zelek's trial, doctors testified that the two children were days away from dying due to starvation, when a concerned family member took them to Egleston Children's Hospital in November 2007.

The boys, who were 12 months old at the time, have been placed in the custody of members of McCart's family.

Tessa Zelek's mother, Christiann Zelek, is expected to be tried in January, on several charges in the case, including failure to report child abuse and contributing to the deprivation of a minor, according to court records.

"We made our intention known early on that it was decided he [James McCart] would enter a guilty plea and be sentenced accordingly," Frey said Thursday.

Frey said that during the plea hearing, McCart made a statement expressing his remorse and his appreciation to his family. "He told Judge Benefield, 'I've got the sentence you're about to hand down, and I deserve it,'" Frey said. "At the moment he realized what had happened, he became cooperative with the police. He continues to cooperate. He believes that the sentence that was handed down was fair," Frey said.

"We are pleased that both parents have now been sentenced for these offenses against their children," District Attorney Lawson said. "He [McCart] took responsibility for his actions, and cooperated with the state in supplying truthful testimony against Tessa Zelek, and the recommendation for his guilty plea reflects that cooperation," she said.

McCart pleaded guilty to two counts of cruelty to children, four counts of contributing to the deprivation of a minor, and two counts of forgery, according to Frey. He said McCart will likely serve 65 to 90 percent of his sentence.