The Wiscasset woman charged with murder in connection to the death of a 4-year-old girl will be held without bail pending a hearing.
Shawna Gatto, 43, of Wiscasset, made her first court appearance in Wiscasset Superior Court Friday morning, following her arrest on Thursday. Gatto is charged with murder in the death of Kendall Chick.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services placed Chick with Gatto in January 2017, according to an affidavit submitted by Maine State Police Detective Jonathan Heimbach. Gatto is the fiancee of Chick’s grandfather, Stephen Hood.
A spokeswoman for DHHS said via email Friday evening that she could not confirm or deny any DHHS involvement because records regarding child protective activities are confidential. Beyond this, she could not comment on the case.
Chick was found to have died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen, according to Maine State Police. In addition to those injuries, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner also discovered that the child had suffered significant blunt force trauma to the head as well as multiple bruises and lacerations of varying ages to the head, neck and all four extremities, according to two affidavits filed by Heimbach.
The affidavits also state that red and brown stains, which tested presumptive positive for blood, were found throughout the home where Chick was living with Hood and Gatto.
Justice William Stokes did not take a plea from Gatto during the initial court appearance Friday since she is charged with a felony. Gatto will continue to be held without bail until a Harnish hearing is held. A Harnish hearing determines if a person charged with a capital crime should be held without bail pending trial.
Gatto is being represented by attorney Philip Cohen. He requested that a second attorney be added to the defense team. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese is representing the state in the case.
The defense has waived that the Harnish hearing be held within the statutory five court days of the request for a hearing. A date for that hearing has not yet been scheduled. Justice Stokes said that a status conference will be held by the end of February.
Maine State Police arrested Gatto Thursday evening, following Chick’s death on Dec. 8. The death occurred at Gatto’s home, according to Maine State Police. Chick had been living with the Gatto and Hood for about two years.
Around 4:30 p.m. on Dec 8, Hood called 911, reporting that Chick was unresponsive. When Wiscasset EMS arrived, they found Chick not breathing and without a pulse, according to the affidavit. She was immediately transported to Mid Coast Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
According to the two affidavits filed by Heimbach ― one for an arrest warrant and one for a search warrant ― Gatto was watching her two grandchildren and Chick leading up the the 911 call on Dec. 8. When Hood returned home from work Chick did not come greet him at the door, as all three children normally did, he told police.
Gatto told Hood that Chick had thrown up and “messed” herself, and that she was in timeout in the bathtub, according to Heimbach. Hood told police that he then went outside to do some work and the next time he saw Chick was when Gatto called him inside because the child was unresponsive.
Gatto told police that she was the only person alone with Chick that day, though she reported that her son had stopped in a couple times. She said she left Chick in the tub to grab the child a drink, and when she returned Chick was unresponsive in the tub. Gatto also told police that there were no bloodshed incidents that day and that Chick did not receive any injuries.
In a text message Gatto sent to her daughter-in-law around the time of the 911 call, Gatto wrote, “U need to get home now I think Kendall is dead,” according to Heimbach. Maine State Police gathered screenshots of the text message conversation between Gatto and her daughter-in-law. Maine State Police also obtained a search warrant for three cell phones found in the home. It is not clear if the daughter-in-law lives with Gatto.
Heimbach writes that Gatto’s account of the events leading up to the death of Chick are contradicted by both physical evidence and the medical findings by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Maine State Police reportedly found red and brown stains which tested presumptive positive for blood throughout the home, including on a bunk bed where Chick slept, on the bathtub and near a round shaped dent in a wall in Chick’s bedroom that appeared consistent with Chick’s head, according to Heimbach.
The stains were also found on paper towels and rags found in a plastic waste bag located in the bathroom where Chick was taking a bath, Heimbach wrote, “indicative of trauma and subsequent cleanup of blood.”
According to the search warrant affidavit, portions of Chick’s head “had to be held in place” in order for a photo of her injuries to be taken.
A conviction of murder in Maine is punishable by 25 years to life in prison.
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