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Mother of infants on trial in cruelty case

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

The trial of a young mother charged with nearly starving to death her infant twins is underway in Clayton County Superior Court.

Testimony began Tuesday in the case of 25-year-old Tessa Zelek, one of three co-defendants who are being tried separately.

Also charged in a 10-count indictment are the twin boys' father, James Alvin McCart, III, and Tessa Zelek's mother, Christiann Zelek.

The children's aunt, Lorea Thornton, 34, of Peachtree City, testified Tuesday that when she discovered the condition of the infants on Nov. 20, 2007, she and another family member took them to a children's hospital in Atlanta.

"When I undressed them, their bodies were like little skeletons, obviously their bodies were disproportionate to their heads," Thornton testified. "The condition they were in - they just didn't seem like they were well, and they seemed like they needed medical attention. We loaded them into the car and took them to Egleston," she said.

Thornton, a witness for the state, testified that she had met the infants' grandmother, Christiann Zelek, at a local gas station to pick up the children.

Police say Christiann Zelek contacted family members on Nov. 20 2007 to pick up the infants after she discovered her daughter Tessa and James McCart "unresponsive, and the children severely malnourished," at a residence located at 31 Lacosta Drive, in Lovejoy.

"Instead of calling the Emergency Medical Services to provide aid to any of the parties involved, Christy [Christiann] Zelek called a family member ... and requested they pick up the children, so the police and DFACS would not see the children how they were, and observe the gross malnourishment," said Clayton County Detective Joanne Southerland, in an application for an arrest warrant sought by police.

According to the warrant application, after dropping off the children with a relative, Christiann Zelek returned to the Lacosta Drive location to "clean up the house," before calling Emergency Medical Services.

"After she cleaned up, and the children were not at the residence, a call was made to the EMS personnel," Southerland said in the warrant application.

Tessa Zelek and James McCart were transported to Henry Medical Center, according to the document. "James Alvin McCart tested positive for cocaine and remained [in] the hospital for approximately one week," Southerland wrote in the application. "Tessa Zelek refused to take a drug test," she said.

During Tessa Zelek's trial Tuesday, an EMT with the Clayton County Emergency Services Department testified that, when he responded to the Lacosta Drive location Nov. 20 2007, Tessa Zelek was pale in color and had a "slow reaction with her pupils."

He testified that the reaction of Zelek's pupils was consistent with, either a head injury, or drug use. "Generally, these are the first two things that are the cause," the EMT said on the stand.

After being admitted to the hospital in November 2007, the twin boys remained there for about a month, according to testimony in the case. They are now in the care of family members, Lorea Thornton testified.

Testimony in the trial is scheduled to continue today before Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield.