Maine Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin talks with attorney Jeff Silverstein as Silverstein's client, Savannah Smith of Bucksport, looks on. Smith is charged in the murder of 2-year-old Kloe Hawksley of Bucksport in October 2017.

A Bucksport woman accused of killing a 2-year-old girl in 2017 was denied bail Monday by a judge after a prosecutor said the girl was killed by a blow to her abdomen that severed her stomach from her small intestine.

Savannah Smith, 21, was arrested April 4 at a Bucksport motel on a charge of murder for allegedly causing the death of Kloe Hawksley 18 months ago. Smith was dating and living with Kloe’s father, Tyler Hawksley, when the girl died in the mobile home they lived in on Central Street.

Smith, who has been held at the Hancock County Jail since her arrest on the same day she was indicted on a murder charge, pleaded not guilty Monday to the alleged crime. She appeared in court wearing an orange jail-issued jump suit and, at times during the arraignment and subsequent bail hearing, teared up and wept silently.

According to an affidavit filed in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court, Kloe had been at the Central Street home with Smith on Oct. 17, 2017, while her father was at work in Belfast. Smith later told police that during the day Kloe fell off a bed and was knocked over by a dog, but neither incident seemed to cause the girl any significant injury.

Credit: Nick Sambides Jr.

Both Kloe and her brother, who was 4 at the time, were asleep by the time their father got home between 6:30 and 7 p.m., according to the document. Kloe was pronounced dead the next morning, after Smith and Kloe’s father woke around 7 a.m., found her unresponsive and then called 911.

An autopsy report prepared by Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s chief medical examiner, showed that Kloe had suffered blunt force trauma to her torso, according to the affidavit. The girl had multiple contusions, internal organ lacerations, a hyper-extended spine, and her thymus — a gland in the top part of the chest — and heart showed signs of chronic stress, according to the report.

The autopsy indicated that “Kloe was living in a situation that exposed her to multiple other less-than-lethal traumas,” Maine State Police Detective Thomas Pickering wrote in the document.

According to Flomenbaum’s report, the affidavit said, the girl likely died 4 to 10 hours after the fatal injury was inflicted and hours before anyone tried to revive her the morning of Oct. 18, 2017.

After Smith pleaded not guilty Monday, Justice Robert Murray held a bail hearing to determine whether Smith might be able to be released on bail while her case is pending in court.

Smith’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, called two people to the stand to testify as he tried to demonstrate that Smith’s lack of a criminal history and extensive family connections to the Bucksport area made her a good candidate for bail.

Anna Edlund, a case supervisor with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, testified that Smith has three children of her own, the oldest of whom is 3. The youngest was born just days before Smith’s April 4 arrest.

Two of the children are in DHHS custody, while the other has been placed with the biological father, Edlund told the court. She said that Smith “had a limited support system” even though she has multiple relatives living in the Bucksport area — including her father and a twin sister.

“The department overall is concerned about her activities and the people around her,” Edlund said, adding that people Smith had associated with were suspected of being involved in making or using crystal methamphetamine, an illegal drug.

Leanne Robbin, the assistant attorney general prosecuting the case, told Murray that Smith’s unstable living situation, her social crowd and the fact that she had trouble making appointments with her DHHS caseworkers indicated that Smith is not a good candidate for bail.

“This defendant was the last adult Kloe was with” before the girl died, Robbin said.

Silverstein said that Smith has “remained faithfully local” by staying in the Bucksport area during the entire 18-month investigation into Kloe’s death, knowing that police might want to interview her again at any time. Smith continues to keep in touch with DHHS and poses no threat to the community, Silverstein argued.

“She’s had plenty of opportunity to [flee] if she thought that would be helpful” to her situation, the defense attorney said.

In denying the request to set bail, Murray noted that where Smith might stay if she were released and the people with whom she might stay with had not been established. He said Smith would be able to request bail again if those details could be worked out, though it would be up to the court to determine if the arrangements would be suitable.

Earlier this month, in a brief prepared statement, Kloe’s mother Keeli Cousins said she is grateful that charges have been filed over her daughter’s death.

“I’m still in utter shock,” Cousins said. “I thank all [investigators] involved who have stuck with this case since day one.”

Robbin declined to comment after the hearing.

Outside the courthouse, Silverstein said it was not “entirely unexpected” that Smith would be denied bail, given that bail usually is not granted to people charged with murder. He also drew attention to the fact that his client was arrested after Flomenbaum filed a supplemental report this past March — 17 months after Kloe’s death — that narrowed the timeline for when the fatal blow likely was inflicted.

Silverstein questioned how much of Flomenbaum’s report can be believed, given that his office lost a body when he served as chief medical examiner in Massachusetts, that his testimony in a 2016 trial in Connecticut was deemed “not credible” by the presiding judge and that a mistrial was declared in February in a Portland murder case after he changed his mind about a key piece of evidence.

“What’s going on with this fella?” Silverstein said. “As we know, he has a challenged history.”

Reached late Monday, Flomenbaum declined to field any questions and directed all inquiries to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Smith’s next expected court appearance is a status conference scheduled for July.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....