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The woman convicted of murdering four-year-old Kendall Chick will not receive the reduced sentence she was seeking. A judge denied her post conviction review request Wednesday.
Shawna Gatto was found guilty of depraved indifference murder by Justice William Stokes following a jury waived trial in April 2019 and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld her conviction last year.
Gatto sought to change her plea and receive a lesser sentence through the post conviction review process, alleging that her trial lawyer provided insufficient representation causing her to not fully understand the case against her and her legal options.
In his decision issued Wednesday, Stokes rejected Gatto’s allegations that her lawyers provided constitutionally deficient representation.
“The attorneys made considerable and reasonable efforts to keep Ms. Gatto apprised of the state of her case and her options, and the court finds she understood them, even as she did not want to face or deal with them,” Stokes wrote in his decision.
At trial, Gatto was represented by attorneys Phil Cohen ― who has since died ― and Jeremy Pratt. She is currently being represented by attorney Dylan Boyd.
During a hearing last month, Gatto said Cohen and Pratt did not communicate with her enough, resulting in a lack of understanding of her case. Gatto also said that she was uncomfortable talking with Cohen, who she said was dismissive of her and made her feel like she couldn’t ask questions.
Had she fully understood the evidence or her plea options going into trial, Gatto said she would have entered a no contest plea instead of a not guilty plea.
Both a guilty plea and a no contest plea result in conviction. However, through a no contest plea, a person does not admit guilt, but concedes that a jury could find them guilty based on the evidence prosecutors would bring forth at trial.
No contest pleas also typically result in a lesser sentence because the plea is seen as accepting some level of responsibility, according to Boyd.
Pratt said the concept of a no contest plea was discussed with Gatto, but that the conversation was a non-starter because she was adamant that she wanted a trial.
“There is no support in the record evidence suggesting that Ms. Gatto had any inclination to enter any type of plea that would have results in a conviction for the crime of murder,” Stokes wrote in his decision.
Stokes accepted Gatto’s testimony that Cohen appeared “annoyed and frustrated” with her leading up to trial. However, Stokes said that Cohen’s behavior and the dueling perceptions about whether or not Gatto was kept adequately informed by her attorneys, “are explained, in large part, by Ms. Gatto’s tendency to ‘shut down’ and refuse to see or hear things she could not deal with,” according to Stokes.
As the judge presiding over her trial, Stokes said he has observed that Gatto is more intelligent and knowledgeable about her case than she portrays. He said that some of her frustration with her attorneys stems from the fact she was unable to face the reality of what happened to Chick and the consequences she was facing.
Assistant Attorney General Don Macomber said Wednesday that the state was pleased with Stokes’ “well-reasoned decision.”
“He totally rejected her self-serving claim that her lawyers were to blame for her conviction and resulting 50-year sentence. Instead, he properly found that the only one to blame was herself,” Macomber said.
Boyd said he is scheduling time in the coming days to meet with Gatto to discuss her options in the wake of the post conviction review denial. Gatto could appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. However, Boyd said it would be up to the court to allow the appeal to proceed.