One month after prosecutors told Superior Court Justice William Stokes that Shawna L. Gatto murdered her fiance’s 4-year-old granddaughter in the Wiscasset home the family shared, Stokes is scheduled to deliver his verdict Tuesday afternoon.
Gatto, 44, is charged with depraved indifference murder for the Dec. 8, 2017, death of Kendall Chick, the granddaughter of Gatto’s fiance, Stephen Hood. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services removed Chick from her mother’s custody and placed her with Gatto and Hood three years before her death.
Gatto pleaded not guilty to the crime and waived her right to a jury trial.
During a weeklong bench trial earlier this month at the Capitol Judicial Center, 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, and the state’s medical examiner testified 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.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber opened his case by introducing nearly 50 photographs of Chick’s bruise-covered corpse and photographs of the home’s bathtub and bunk bed that Luminol showed to be blood-stained.
He played recorded interviews with Gatto in which she described Chick as “very accident-prone” and said she “wondered a few times if she could feel pain because she never cried.”
Hood, who testified for the prosecution, told the court that he saw bruises and other injuries on his granddaughter throughout her life. He added that when he questioned Gatto about them, she said the child “would be fine.”
Prior to his testimony, Stokes offered Hood 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.”
But Gatto’s defense attorneys, Jeremy Pratt and Philip Cohen, said too much remains unknown about Chick’s death to convict Gatto, and then focused on Hood as a potential alternative suspect in the murder.
Witnesses pointed to Hood’s “temper” and said they would not let him care for their own children. Cohen read from text messages Hood sent Gatto in which he wrote, “I don’t know what to do. Get rid of her? How? But then we’d have to carry the guilt.”
Hood said he’d written the message because Chick had special needs, and he wondered about having her returned to state custody.
Hood said DHHS had only checked on Chick once during the more than three years she was in the couple’s custody.
Gatto did not take the stand in her own defense.
If convicted of depraved indifference murder, Gatto could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
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.