AUGUSTA, Maine — Kendall Chick’s grandfather testified Wednesday afternoon that he saw bruises and other injuries on his granddaughter throughout her life, but that when he questioned Shawna Gatto about them, she said the child “would be fine.”
Stephen Hood took the stand just after a lunch break on Wednesday, the third day of Gatto’s trial at the Capitol Judicial Center. Gatto, 44, is charged with depraved indifference murder in the Dec. 8, 2017, death of the 4-year-old, who had been placed in their care by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Gatto pleaded not guilty to the crime. She waived her right to a jury trial, and Superior Court Justice William Stokes will rule in the case.
Earlier on Wednesday, experts from the Maine State Police crime lab testified that Chick’s DNA and what they surmised to be her blood stains had been found throughout the Wiscasset home she shared with Gatto and Hood.
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.
Hood slumped and spoke quietly for about 90 minutes from the witness stand Wednesday afternoon as he testified for the prosecution. He told Stokes that Chick had two black eyes for “a few weeks,” and that Gatto told him they resulted from a fall — a fall he told Assistant Attorney General John Alsop he had not seen, but had been told about by Gatto.
Then, he said, “There was a second, re-injury. The first one had started healing, she could open the eye again. The bruise was healing. I came home from work and it was buttoned up again.”
Hood said that when he came home from work that day, “I threw my hands up in the air and said, ‘What the [expletive]?”
Again, Gatto said Chick had fallen into the corner of a coffee table. But he continued to tell Alsop that he had not seen additional injuries occur, including marks on her neck and a swollen ear, although he did notice that her head was swollen since “probably early November.”
“Did you talk about taking her to emergency care?” Alsop asked.
“We did talk about it, and about making her wear a helmet,” Hood said. “[Gatto] assured me she knew what she was doing because she was in the nursing field. She was watching it and [Chick] would be fine.”
He said both he and Gatto “really couldn’t” take Chick to a doctor or out in public, because, “Obviously, we have a child who has multiple bruises. It would be awfully uncomfortable.”
Prior to Hood’s testimony, Stokes offered him an attorney, warning him that any statements he made could be used against him if charges such as endangering the welfare of a child, assault “or possibly more serious charges” are pursued, but Hood said, “I think I’m OK.”
Also on Wednesday, Alsop played a Dec. 19, 2017, recording of a phone call between Gatto, who was incarcerated at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, and Hood. During the call, Hood told Gatto that her case was “not looking good,” and repeatedly asked her how the child had died.
“I thought we were a happy home, with happy children,” Hood said. “I want to know what killed my little girl … I’m scared and worried for you … if there was any abuse going on in this house …”
“Is that what you think?” Gatto replied on the recording.
“I don’t know what to think anymore,” he said. “This is such a [expletive]-up situation. I come home from work and …”
Gatto interrupted, “Don’t say it, don’t say it.” And then, “Steve, do you love me? Do you trust in me. Then you should know your answer. Why are you questioning me now?”
Gatto again said she didn’t know what happened, to which Hood responded, “If you keep saying, ‘I don’t know,’ you’re going to do life. This is reality … What happened to Kendall. This is why you are there. You are there because Kendall is dead.”
Hood said there was “no physical way that with one hand I could have split her pancreas. There is no way. It would have to be a punch or a kick, a car accident or something like that.”
Hood said he told police he’d never seen Gatto hit any of the children “except a slap on the ass.”
“She was fine, Steve,” Gatto said again. “I loved Kendall just as [expletive] much as you did. Why would I [expletive] do this [expletive]?”
Later, he said, “I swear on my life … I did nothing to her. You were the last one with her all day.”
The trial will continue on Friday.
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.