Trial begins for Maine woman charged in 4-year-old’s death

April 1, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A 4-year-old girl was covered with bruises and one of her eyes was swollen shut when responders arrived to find her lifeless body in her home in December 2017 in Wiscasset, witnesses testified Monday at the murder trial of the girl’s caretaker.

Prosecutors said Kendall Chick was serially abused even though Shawna Gatto, now 44, told her fiance and first responders, “She was fine 10 minutes ago.” An autopsy showed Chick had more than a dozen injuries consistent with severe child abuse.

“As you can see your honor, little Kendall Chick was not fine 10 minutes ago,” Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said Monday.

Gatto, who pleaded not guilty to murder, asked for the case to be heard by a judge, not a jury, because it’s emotionally charged. The trial began Monday.

Chick was placed in the care of Gatto and her fiance, Scott Hood, by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services because Chick’s parents were battling substance abuse problems.

“Shawna and Scott were going to be empty nesters,” Macomber said. Instead, they ended up caring for two of Gatto’s grandchildren, along with Chick, who was Hood’s granddaughter.

Macomber said the evidence will show that Gatto cleaned up before the arrival of first responders. But blood was still found in several locations in the home, he told the judge.

Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt told Superior Court Justice William Stocks that he would reserve his opening remarks until the prosecution had ended its case.

The death of Chick and another child, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in Stockton Springs, spurred investigations into Maine’s child protective services.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability cited “poor job performance and inadequate supervision appear to have been factors” involving the cases.

Since then, there has been an increase in spending, and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has hired more caseworkers. Other changes are in the works.