Caregiver convicted in beating death of 4-year-old girl
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A Wiscasset woman accused of fatally beating a 4-year-old girl in her care was convicted Tuesday in a case that led to changes in Maine’s child welfare system.
Calling the abuse “outrageous, revolting, shocking and brutal,” Superior Court Justice William Stokes announced that he found 44-year-old Shawna Gatto to be guilty of depraved indifference murder in the death of Kendall Chick in her home in December 2017.
Gatto asked for the case to be heard by the judge, not a jury, because of the emotionally charged evidence and testimony. She faces 25 years to life in prison when she is sentenced in June.
“We will never be able to undo the harm that was done when young Kendall’s life was brutally taken from her, but today’s decision is a step toward accountability for her killer,” said Democratic state Sen. Bill Diamond, of Windham, who has introduced a bill to overhaul Maine’s child welfare system.
Witnesses testified the youngster’s body was covered with bruises and one of her eyes was swollen shut when responders discovered her lifeless body in December 2017. An autopsy showed Kendall had more than a dozen injuries consistent with severe child abuse.
Kendall was placed in the home of Gatto and her fiance, Stephen Hood, who was Kendall’s grandfather, while the youngster’s mother battled addiction.
Hood testified that a Maine Department of Health and Human Services caseworker visited the home just once over the three years the girl lived with the couple.
The high-profile deaths of Kendall and another girl, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in Stockton Springs, led to a series of health department changes after a legislative watchdog said “poor job performance and inadequate supervision appear to have been factors” in both cases.
But Diamond said more needs to be done by the agency, by lawmakers and by law enforcement. “We need to act now,” he said.
He said reform efforts have fallen short since the death of a foster child, 5-year-old Logan Marr, who was duct-taped to a high chair and suffocated in 2001.
“Since Logan Marr died in 2001, through four gubernatorial administrations, we’ve had seven commissioners of DHHS, and kids are still dying,” he said.
This story has been updated to correct a quotation by Superior Court Justice William Stokes to include the word “revolting.”