AUGUSTA, Maine — A superior court justice on Tuesday found 44-year-old Shawna Gatto guilty of depraved indifference murder in the Dec. 8, 2017, death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick at their Wiscasset home.
Superior Court Justice William Stokes delivered his verdict just before 2 p.m. at the Capitol Judicial Center, where less than a month ago he presided over Gatto’s bench trial.
Stokes described the abuse inflicted by Gatto as “outrageous, revolting, shocking and brutal,” and said “such conduct can only be described as torture.”
Stokes said Gatto’s insistence that Chick injured herself was “inherently incredible” and “utterly unworthy of belief.”
Chick was 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.
Chick’s death and that of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy three months later prompted legislative investigations into their deaths, a state investigation into the child welfare system, changes to the system by lawmakers and a contracted report from the department.
Gatto pleaded not guilty to the crime and waived her right to a jury trial.
During the weeklong trial, 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.
Prosecutors 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.”
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.
Stokes said Tuesday that whether Hood knew or should have known what was happening to Chick is not a matter for him to decide.
“The external injuries are certainly consistent with a child who has been slapped, pushed, slammed, grabbed, twisted, pinched and, perhaps, kicked,” Stokes said Tuesday. He said Gatto knew her explanation that Chick was accident-prone and injured herself was “preposterous.”
Gatto did not take the stand in her own defense.
Stokes set sentencing for June 25 in Wiscasset Superior Court. Gatto could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Following the verdict, Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, who with Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber prosecuted the case, said the facts in the “very horrific case” demanded the verdict that was rendered.
“This is the first step of justice for Kendall,” Macomber said.
Alsop said prosecutors will ask for a severe sentence.
He said prosecutors will discuss whether to file charges against Hood.
Cohen, the defense attorney, said he was disappointed in the verdict but would have to respect the court’s decision. He said attorneys will appeal the decision.