The bench trial of Shawna L. Gatto, the Wiscasset woman charged with depraved indifference murder in connection with the December 2017 death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick, is underway at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta.
The trial began Monday, April 1 and is expected to take four days. Maine Superior Court Justice William R. Stokes will determine the verdict, as Gatto, 44, waived her right to a jury trial in August 2018.
Maine law differentiates between intentional or knowing murder and depraved indifference murder; however, both charges carry the same sentence of 25 years to life.
Chick lived with her grandfather, Stephen Hood, and Gatto, her primary caregiver and Hood’s fiancee, at 19 Crickets Lane in Wiscasset. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services placed her in the home in January 2017.
The Wiscasset Ambulance Service responded to the home for a report of an unresponsive 4-year-old girl the afternoon of Dec. 8. An ambulance crew brought Chick to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, where she was pronounced dead.
Chick died of a blunt-force injury to the abdomen that caused “lacerations of her pancreas” and other internal injuries, according to a report by Maine State Police Detective Jonathan Heimbach, which cites the findings of Maine’s chief medical examiner. She also sustained blunt-force trauma to the head and numerous other injuries, and showed signs of “chronic physiological stress.”
Gatto told investigators she was the only person alone with Chick the day of her death, according to the detective’s report. Police found evidence of “trauma and subsequent cleanup” of blood in multiple rooms in the house.
Maine State Police detectives arrested Gatto at the home six days after Chick’s death, on the evening of Dec. 14.
A Lincoln County grand jury indicted Gatto on Jan. 3, 2018. She pleaded not guilty during her arraignment at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Wiscasset on Jan. 12, 2018.
After the deaths of Chick and Marissa Kennedy, 10, of Stockton Springs, in February 2018, the Maine State Legislature ordered an investigation into the DHHS response to reports of neglect and abuse of both girls. The investigation revealed failures to follow policy and other problems at DHHS’ Office of Child and Family Services.
A bill before the Maine State Legislature would limit caseloads for state child protective workers as a response to the deaths and the investigation.
Assistant Attorneys General John Alsop and Donald Macomber are the prosecutors. Waldoboro attorney Philip S. Cohen and Camden attorney Jeremy Pratt are representing Gatto.
The Lincoln County News will publish updates on the trial daily.