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Judge considers fate of woman charged in 4-year-old’s death

April 8, 2019

WISCASSET, Maine (AP) — A defense attorney told a judge on Monday that there wasn’t evidence to convict a Wiscasset woman of fatally beating a 4-year-old girl in her care because no one saw her hurt the youngster and because her boyfriend could have inflicted some of the injuries.

Phillip Cohen said there’s a conflict between the natural desire to want to blame someone and the legal standard for a criminal conviction.

“Human nature wants us to blame someone but the principles of our justice system say we haven’t met that standard yet,” he said Monday.

Shawna Gatto, who declined to testify in her own defense, asked for the case to be heard by a judge, not a jury, because of the emotionally charged testimony in the death of Kendall Chick.

The judge expects to deliver his verdict April 30.

Maine’s child protective system came under increased scrutiny last year after the deaths of Kendall in Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in Stockton Springs.

The deaths led to a series of changes in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services after a legislative watchdog said “poor job performance and inadequate supervision appear to have been factors” in both cases.

Kendall was placed in the home of Gatto and her fiancé, Stephen Hood, while the youngster’s mother battled addiction. Testimony during Gatto’s trial indicated a Maine DHHS caseworker visited the home just once over the three years that the girl lived with the couple.

In court, several witnesses who know Gatto testified that she was loving to Kendall. Her ex-husband, Donald Ricker, said she never spanked or hit her or his sons.

Witness also testified Hood had a temper and sometimes became frustrated while caring for Kendall, who was his granddaughter, and two other children. Hood testified that he spanked Kendall once but felt so bad about it that he never disciplined her that way again.