December 09, 2019
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Experts: Murdered child’s DNA, ‘presumptive’ blood stains found throughout home where she died

Beth Brogan | BDN
Beth Brogan | BDN
Shawna L. Gatto enters a Kennebec County courtroom on Monday, the first day of her murder trial. Gatto is accused in the killing of 4-year-old Kendall Chick.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Testifying for the prosecution, Maine State Police Sgt. Jason Richards began the third day of the Shawna Gatto murder trial by describing the nearly 50 photographs he took the night 4-year-old Kendall Chick died in the Wiscasset home where she lived with her grandfather, Scott Hood, and Gatto.

Superior Court Justice William Stokes also heard from a clerk at the Wiscasset Family Dollar Store, who testified seeing Gatto, Hood and Chick in the store during the summer and fall of 2017, and ultimately reporting concerns about abuse.

Gatto, 44, is charged with depraved indifference murder. She is accused of killing the child at the Wiscasset home on Dec. 8, 2017.

Chick had been removed from her mother’s custody by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and placed with Gatto and Hood.

Gatto pleaded not guilty to the crime. She waived her right to a jury trial, and Stokes will rule in the case.

The photos showed Wednesday morning depicted a cluttered mobile home.

As Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber displayed photo after photo, Richards pointed out two towels, a purple pillowcase, a sponge from the bathtub, a pillow, a comforter, all with red-brown stains he said tested “presumptively positive for blood.”

Richards said a plastic Shaws bag used as a trash receptacle contained a soiled “pull-up” style diaper and paper towels with “fairly obvious red stains.”

Also displayed were child-sized purple, patterned pajamas.

“The shirt was damp and had a number of red-brown stains and another crusty material … I believed it to be vomit,” Richards said.

He also showed photographs of the tub, surrounding area and bunk bed in which Chick slept, all with glowing spots he said were blood stains visible after being sprayed with Luminol.

Finally, Richards said a photo of a dented piece of sheetrock came from the bedroom in which Chick slept. The circle-shaped dent contained a piece of hair embedded, as well as red-brown splatter stains, he said.

Macomber entered all items into evidence, including the sheetrock.

Forensic chemist Melissa Robitaille, who tests for hair and body fluids, testified that the blood stains were “presumptively positive for human blood.” She said the hair embedded in the dent in the drywall was brown human head hair, approximately 9 inches long, and that because it contained “anagen roots,” it had been” forcibly removed.”

During cross-examination by defense attorney Jeremy Pratt, Richards said he could not be sure the red-brown substance was blood, that he had not documented the temperature of the room (although he noted it was “comfortable room temperature”), and that he could not tell from the stains how or when they were deposited.

Asked by Pratt, Robitaille also said she had no opinion on when or how the stains appeared.

Maine State Police Detective Lawrence Rose testified that stains on a pillow, a comforter and a bedroom door, among other places, tested positive for Chick’s DNA.

Most of the stains were located in the child’s bedroom, most “spatter” stains on a vertical plane, and would have required “some sort of energy source” to create the stains.

In response to a question from Macomber, Rose said a spatter including saliva and blood could come from being struck in the mouth.

Of the dent in the drywall, Rose said a bloody object came in contact with a non-bloody object, and that the size “appears to me to be shaped similar to a human head.”

Bonnie Lane of Wiscasset, a clerk at the Wiscasset Family Dollar, also told Stokes that she saw Chick, Gatto and Hood four to six times in the second half of 2017 and that each time she noticed bruises and cuts on the child.

She said she spoke to Gatto about getting some financial help from the state. She then contacted the Maine Department of Health and Human Services after seeing the family in September, she said, but had no information about how to contact them until she saw them again in November.

At that time, she said, “Kendall’s little nose was very very black and blue and very swollen, and she had still a cut above her eye and she had bruises on her face.”

Lane said only when she heard Chick had died and saw her photo on television did she realize the two were the same person.

But defense attorney Philip Cohen, who with Pratt is defending Gatto, aggressively cross-examined Lane, asking her if she only thought Gatto had been the abuser once she saw she was arrested.

“If you truly thought my client was abusing Kendall, you probably wouldn’t have given her information about how to get money from the state,” he said.

“What if you had seen Stephen Hood was arrested [for the murder],” he asked. “Who would you be sitting here thinking was the one who was abusing Kendall?”

“I don’t know,” Lane responded.

On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s medical examiner, testified that his autopsy indicated that Chick died from blunt force trauma to her head, a “catastrophic” traumatic injury to her abdomen and chronic “child abuse syndrome,” or multiple injuries to many parts of her body over time.

If convicted of murder, Gatto could face 25 years to life in prison. She could also be found guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter.

As of Wednesday morning, the defense had not made an opening statement or presented its evidence in the case.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

 



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