The woman convicted of murdering 4-year-old Kendall Chick is seeking a review of her case that could lead to a reduced prison term, her attorney said Tuesday.

Shawna Gatto, then 44, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for depraved indifference murder in the death of the Wiscasset girl.

Kendall Chick

Justice William 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 Maine’s child welfare system intended to improve protections for abused children. The child welfare system remains under scrutiny.

Stokes said at the sentencing hearing that he had considered a life sentence, but imposed the lesser one because he believed Gatto was overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for Kendall – granddaughter of her fiancee – and two of her own grandchildren. 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.

Gatto was convicted on April 30, 2019, with Stokes dismissing her contention that the many bruises on the girl’s body 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 Chick’s life, but that the killing was not intentional.

In June 2020, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld Gatto’s conviction, stating that the long-term abuse suffered by Chick was tantamount to torture.

Gatto then filed a petition with the lower court for a post conviction review, alleging that poor communication between her and her defense attorneys resulted in her not fully understanding all of her legal options and the evidence against her, according to her court-appointed attorney Dylan Boyd. Gatto entered a plea of not guilty at trial.

A virtual evidentiary hearing was held Tuesday morning with Stokes presiding. Gatto, her former trial attorney Jeremy Pratt, and Cynthia D’Ambrosio, a private investigator who worked with Gatto’s defense lawyers, testified via Zoom.

“Had her attorneys communicated better about the evidence against her and her options, she would have pleaded no contest,” Boyd said Tuesday evening during a telephone interview. “The message (about pleading no contest) just didn’t get across to her. She was overwhelmed by her situation and she would shut down.”

Boyd said is client is asking Stokes to allow her to re-enter her plea. If Stokes approves, Gatto will plead no contest, meaning she accepts some degree of responsibility for the child’s death, but is not admitting guilt. Most no contest pleas are entered with the defendant’s understanding that there is enough evidence to convict them, Boyd said.

“Presumably her sentence would be less than 50 years,” Boyd said, adding that Gatto’s sentence could not be less than 25 years.

The state was represented at Tuesday’s hearing by Assistant Attorney General Don Macomber.

Pratt, who was contacted Tuesday night by email, said he wouldn’t comment on the case until Wednesday. Phil Cohen, who worked with Pratt in Gatto’s trial defense, died in 2020.

At Gatto’s sentencing hearing in 2019, Pratt had argued that his client was “not the monster” that prosecutors portrayed and that a life sentence was not called for. 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.

Boyd said he has until Oct. 15 to file a brief in support of his client’s petition for a post conviction review.

Gatto is serving her sentence at the Women’s Center correctional facility in Windham.

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