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Journal Tribune
Posted
Updated November 8, 2019
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Shawna Gatto sentenced to 50 years for murder of 4-year-old Kendall Chick

Shawna Gatto enters Lincoln County Superior Court on Tuesday for sentencing in the death of Kendall Chick. GREGORY REC/Portland Press Herald

WISCASSET — Shawna Gatto has been sentenced to 50 years in prison for the murder of 4-year-old Kendall Chick.

Superior Court Justice William Stokes said during a hearing Tuesday morning that he considered a life sentence for Gatto, but decided against it because he believes the 44-year-old woman got in over her head caring for Chick and two other small children. But, he told Gatto, dozens of bruises on the little girl showed “what you did was a horror.”

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Stokes had ruled the girl’s death shortly after her fourth birthday in late 2017 was the result of brutal and repeated physical abuse, and the case helped drive a review of the Maine’s child welfare system and a series of reforms intended to improve protections for abused children.

Gatto was convicted in April by Stokes in a non-jury trial and faced a sentence of 25 years to life. She did not visibly react during the sentencing hearing, except near the end, when she appeared to dab at tears in her eyes with a tissue.

Gatto kept her head down as Stokes read off a list of more than a dozens of injuries that Kendall suffered before her death in late 2017, a few weeks past her fourth birthday.

Stokes said that he believes Gatto had the best of intentions when she entered into an arrangement to care for Kendall — granddaughter of her fiancee — and two of her own grandchildren, but was overwhelmed by the responsibility. Custody of Kendall, who was born drug-affected, had been taken away from the girl’s mother and given to the girl’s grandfather, Stephen Hood.

Had Gatto sought out help, Stokes said, Kendall would likely still be alive, but she also knew that if she reached out, doctors or other caregivers would recognize the abuse that the girl had suffered.

“Kendall would be alive today if there had been some intervention,” Stokes said.

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 65 years to life for Gatto, while defense lawyers argued for a 30-year sentence.

“This was a beating death, over a period of months, of a small child,” said Donald Macomber, an assistant attorney general.

But Jeremy Pratt, Gatto’s lawyer, said his client was “not the monster” that prosecutors sought to portray her as and said a life sentence was not called for in his case. Pratt had suggested a sentence of 30 years.

“She is someone worth giving an opportunity to get out before she dies in prison,” Pratt said.

Kendall Chick died with multiple injuries.

After the hearing, he said both the verdict and sentence would be appealed.

Gatto was convicted of depraved indifference murder on April 30, with Stokes dismissing Gatto’s contention that bruises on the girl, Kendall Chick, were the result of accidents.

“The physical abuse suffered by Kendall Chick, when viewed objectively and in the totality of all the circumstances, can only be described as outrageous, revolting, shocking and brutal,” Stokes said in announcing his verdict. The charge, depraved indifference murder, indicates that Stokes believed Gatto showed no regard for the value of Kendall’s life, but the killing was not intentional or premeditated.

During the trial, the state’s chief medical examiner said Kendall had more than a dozen distinct injuries, including an injury to her abdomen that lacerated her pancreas and caused internal bleeding.

“She had been under stress for a long time, we’re talking weeks or months,” Dr. Mark Flomenbaum testified.

Prosecutors said Gatto had no good explanation for the girl’s injuries, which seemed to occur when no one other than Gatto was around. And Stokes said he agreed with other evidence presented by prosecutors that Kendall’s injuries were inflicted, not accidental.

Gatto’s lawyers called witnesses who described the woman as loving toward the girl and said they never saw Gatto discipline Kendall. Gatto did not take the stand during the trial and declined the opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing.

Kendall’s death and the death of a 10-year old, Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs, prompted calls for an overhaul of the state’s child protective system. Marissa died about two months after Kendall and police believe she was beaten to death by her mother and stepfather. The parents, Sharon Carillo and Julio Carillo, have been charged with murder and will go to trial separately later this year.

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