AUGUSTA, Maine — Defense attorneys for Shawna Gatto began their arguments Monday suggesting that too much remains unknown about the death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick to convict the woman of murder.
They made their case without testimony from Gatto, who is not scheduled to take the stand in her own defense.
Witnesses called by defense attorneys Philip Cohen and Jason Pratt described Gatto as loving and gentle with children, and said they never saw her physically discipline them.
And at least one said she would never leave her child alone with Chick’s grandfather and Gatto’s fiance, Stephen Hood, because of his “temper,” including yelling and at one point, physically fighting with his 17-year-old son.
Gatto, 44, is charged with depraved indifference murder and is on trial at the Capitol Judicial Center in Augusta. She is accused of killing Chick on Dec. 8, 2017, at the Wiscasset home the two shared with Hood. Chick had been removed from her mother’s custody by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and placed with Gatto and Hood.
Monday’s testimony was consistent with previous efforts by the defense to raise suspicion about Hood as a possible alternative suspect.
Heather Berry of Bath, the mother of Gatto’s 4-year-old grandson, testified that while she never saw Gatto discipline her child or other children, she would “absolutely” not have left Hood to watch her child
Berry, 20, said she and her child lived with Gatto’s son, Jordan Gatto, in the mobile home in Baybridge Estates in Brunswick for several months when her son was a few months old.
At the time, Berry said, Chick would spend weekends with the couple, and Gatto “was always very interactive with all the kids, always playing, going outside” and was “always very kind” to Chick.
But she said one day when Hood’s son hadn’t brought the trash cans back to the house as asked, Hood “started freaking out about the trash cans” and “punched him right in the face.”
Other witnesses, including Gatto’s son, Brian Ricker 27, of Bowdoin said that while he was growing up with three brothers between 6 to 11 years old their father did use physical discipline on occasion, but not Gatto.
On cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber asked, “You weren’t preschool toddlers, were you?”
Ricker’s father, Donald Ricker, told the court that Gatto was their primary caregiver and that while he would occasionally spank the boys, her form of discipline would be “basically just tell them to stop” or make them sit at a table or go to their rooms.
“My youngest son used to have wicked tantrums and stuff, and I told her to slap his ass and put him in his room, and she would just hug him and try to calm him down,” Donald Ricker said. “He would beat her and kick her and slap her and pull her hair, and I’m like, ‘You’ve got to get that under control.’”
Again, Macomber questioned how that testimony related to Chick’s death.
“You don’t really have any idea what was going on in Wiscasset in 2017,” he said
“The evidence simply isn’t there to meet the standards of justice,” Cohen said Friday. “The time of death, the cause of death, the time of the fatal injury, the cause of the fatal injury, who inflicted the fatal injury — there are just too many unknowns. Justice is not blaming someone, justice is only blaming the right someone.”
The defense finished presenting witnesses Monday afternoon. Stokes is expected to issue a verdict in the case by the end of April.
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.
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