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Sentencing postponed in mother's child-cruelty case

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

A sentencing hearing scheduled for Friday was postponed in the case of a Lovejoy mother found guilty, earlier this month, of nearly starving to death her infant twins in 2007.

Tessa Zelek, 25, was scheduled to be sentenced at 8:30 a.m., Friday. However, the judge in the case, Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield, postponed the sentencing due to an ongoing murder trial which she is also presiding over.

The sentencing for Zelek had not yet been rescheduled by Friday afternoon, but could be scheduled for sometime next week, according to Assistant District Attorney Anece Baxter White.

The twin boys' father, James McCart, has been offered a plea deal of 15 years in prison, to serve 12, on child-cruelty charges, White said in court during Zelek's trial.

"We have entered into a plea negotiation," McCart's attorney, Steve Frey, said Friday. "He'll be sentenced sometime toward the conclusion of the entire case."

The children's grandmother, Christiann Zelek, is charged with failure to report child abuse after allegedly finding the children severely malnourished and the couple unresponsive in their Lovejoy mobile home. According to a warrant application, Christiann Zelek called the children's aunt, Lorea Thornton, to pick up the boys, who were 12 months old at the time.

Thornton testified that after picked up the children, she discovered their condition and took them to Egleston Children's Hospital in Atlanta.

Hospital personnel later alerted police to the children's condition, according to testimony in the case.

Christiann Zelek is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 9, according to White.

Prosecutors had argued in Tessa Zelek's case that Tessa Zelek and McCart were strung out on prescription drugs and failed to feed the children, causing their brains to shrink, and leaving them emaciated, with bed sores from prolonged neglect.