By Jason A. Smith
A last-minute plea change has resulted in prison time for a Stockbridge man, in the death of his girlfriend's daughter.
Jamal Tinsley, 33, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter Friday. His plea ended his murder trial in Henry County Superior Court.
Judge Wade Crumbley sentenced Tinsley to 10 years in prison, with five to serve. The judge credited the defendant with the two years he has served in the Henry County Jail since his arrest.
Tinsley was charged with murder and felony murder in the Aug. 3, 2008 death of 20-month-old Savannah Seck. Members of Savannah Seck's family left the courtroom in tears, after hearing the news of Tinsley's guilty plea.
Before Judge Crumbley issued his sentence, the child's mother, Holly Seck, told the court she would attempt to forgive Tinsley for his actions, in order to "see my baby in Heaven."
Friday was not the first time Tinsley had been presented with a chance to plead to the involuntary manslaughter charge, according to Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd. The prosecutor said his staff offered such a deal to the defendant prior to the trial, but Tinsley did not accept it.
"He decided to take it after the evidence was in," Floyd said. "We thought that was a fitting resolution to the case, based on the evidence presented. The jury could have very well found him not guilty."
The district attorney added that involuntary manslaughter, with reckless conduct as an underlying misdemeanor, was included in the charges the jury would have received as options for convicting the defendant. During the trial, Tinsley admitted to smoking marijuana and falling asleep while he was supposed to be watching Savannah Seck.
Tinsley's guilty plea brought an end to three days of testimony by prosecution witnesses in the case. The final witness from the state was Dr. Steven Dunton, a forensic pathologist, who performed Savannah Seck's autopsy. He told jurors the child's death was due to blunt-force trauma, resulting from injuries sustained no more than 18 to 24 hours before she died.
"Her death was a combination of a head injury, and an abdominal injury," Dunton testified. "She had a number of areas of her brain that had some bleeding."
Tinsley's attorney, Public Defender Gary Bowman, said based on evidence presented by the prosecution, he did not believe the jury would have been able to find the defendant guilty of murder.
The guilty plea was "the smartest path" for the defense to follow, Bowman said, and he said it was in his client's best interest.
"There's no question in my mind that the state did not prove murder in any shape, form or fashion," Bowman said. "They just didn't have a case. They were taking a lot of injury to a child, and inferring that my client did it when they had no proof of it. But, I couldn't overcome the issue of smoking marijuana and sleeping while a child is in your custody. That's what he would have gotten convicted of, so that's why we did the plea."
Bowman added that, because the trial ended early, he was unable to present evidence to the jury regarding an alternate theory of who killed Savannah Seck.
"We actually had evidence that a female caused this child's death, and had a witness to that effect," he said.