Savannah Smith, 22, turns and looks toward her mother in an Ellsworth courtroom on Thursday, July 9, 2020, before pleading guilty to a charge of manslaughter in the Oct. 2017 death of 2 year-old Bucksport resident Kloe Hawksley, who officials say was repeatedly physically abused. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A Bucksport woman who killed a 2-year-old girl in her care and was not arrested until 18 months later will serve 10 years in prison.

Kloe Hawksley, 2, of Bucksport, was killed in October 2017. Credit: Contributed photo

Savannah Smith, 22, pleaded guilty Thursday morning to a charge of manslaughter in an Ellsworth courtroom. She was accused of killing Kloe Hawksley, who prosecutors say died at her Bucksport home in October 2017 from a blow to her abdomen that severed her stomach from her small intestine. Smith was dating Kloe Hawksley’s father at the time.

Smith entered an Alford plea in court, meaning she did not admit to the criminal act, but conceded that a jury would likely convict her if she went to trial. The plea was part of a deal with the Maine attorney general’s office that called for prosecutors to recommend that she be sentenced to 20 years in prison with all but 10 years suspended, and then to serve four years of probation.

Justice Robert Murray, who is presiding over the case, accepted that sentencing recommendation.

Smith has no prior criminal record. If she gets in trouble with the law after she gets out of prison, while she is on probation, she could face going back to prison to serve the 10 years of her sentence that have been suspended.

According to an affidavit filed in court, Kloe had been at her Central Street home with Smith on Oct. 17, 2017, while the girl’s father was at work in Belfast. Both Kloe and her brother, who was 4 at the time, were asleep by the time their father got home between 6:30 and 7 p.m., according to the document. Kloe was pronounced dead the next morning, after Smith and Kloe’s father awoke around 7 a.m., found her unresponsive and then called 911.

According to a report by State Medical Examiner Mark Flomenbaum, the affidavit said, the girl likely died four to 10 hours after the fatal injury was inflicted and hours before anyone tried to revive her the next morning.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin told Murray at Smith’s sentencing that an autopsy of the girl showed she was the victim of repeated physical abuse. Kloe had bruises all over her body, scratch marks on her cheeks, lacerations to internal organs and a bald spot on the back of her head. Her heart and thymus gland in her chest showed signs of chronic stress, she said.

“This was a catastrophic event,” Robbin said.

Robbin added that Smith was the only adult supervising Kloe during the time the medical examiner determined she had died. When interviewed by police the next day, Smith said the girl had been knocked over by the family’s dogs, and may have fallen off a bunk bed, but the evidence gathered at the scene did not match up with her explanation, the prosecutor said.

The girl’s parents spoke separately at Smith’s sentencing.

Tyler Hawskley, her father, said he enjoyed having impromptu dances with Kloe in the kitchen of their home.

“I’ll never get to see her grow, never get to see her smile. We will never have a father-daughter dance,” he said, his voice swelling with emotion. “[But] I will not let this consume me and my family.”

Keeli Cousins, Kloe’s mother, called her daughter’s death a “murder” and said her son still is suffering from the trauma of his sister’s death. Kloe, she noted, would have turned 5 this past May.

Tyler Hawksley, father of Kloe Hawksley, reads a prepared statement to Justice Robert Murray while Savannah Smith, 22, stares at the defense table in an Ellsworth courtroom on Thursday, July 9, 2020. Smith pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of manslaughter in the Oct. 2017 death of 2 year-old Kloe Hawksley, who officials say was repeatedly physically abused. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

“She will never be able to enjoy her first day in school, [but] she will never have to endure any more abuse,” Cousins said. “This event will forever haunt me. I want Savannah to know Kloe’s life did have a value. I can only hope somehow there is justice for Kloe.”

Smith, who teared up several times during the proceeding, also addressed the court, saying she hopes to learn to be more independent. She said she was led astray by her dependency on others.

“I am torn apart,” Smith said. “I recognize why they [Kloe’s family] feel the way they do. I hope that one day they can forgive me.”

“I am sorry,” Smith said.

Smith’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, said earlier this week that Smith decided to plead guilty after concluding that the state would have a good chance of getting a manslaughter conviction if the case went to trial. Smith has been held in jail since her arrest on April 4, 2019.

The defense attorney said that the manslaughter conviction will follow his client around for the rest of her life.

“It’s not going to be a picnic in the park, but it won’t be decades of incarceration,” Silverstein said Tuesday.

After the sentencing, Robbin said that the amount of time Smith will spend in prison is comparable to sentences other defendants have received in similar cases where abuse has resulted in the death of a child.

There is “no number of years” that Smith could serve to undo the damage she has caused Kloe’s family, Robbin said. But Smith will only be in her early 30s when she is released, which means she will have a chance to turn her life around, even with a manslaughter conviction on her record.

“That’s what it’s all about,” the prosecutor said of the sentence. “This is a game-changer for her, to accept responsibility for manslaughter.”

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....