In Superior Court in Wiscasset Tuesday, Shawna Gatto, 44, of Wiscasset, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the murder of her fiance’s granddaughter, 4-year-old Kendall Chick, who died Dec. 8, 2017.
Chick’s age being under 6 and her being a victim of domestic violence weighed into the sentence. For that part of the sentence, Stokes imposed 50 years in prison.
Stokes found that mitigating factors including Gatto’s strong support from her family and her lack of a criminal record offset aggravating factors the prosecution presented, including the impact of Chick’s death on the community, and that Gatto, as a middle-aged caregiver who had raised children of her own, should have understood the issues involved in raising a preschool-aged child. Another factor Stokes discounted was that Gatto had never accepted responsibility for her actions. The prosecution requested a sentence of 65 years to life.
The defense countered that all deaths have an impact on the community, and that in this case, with a good number of child abuse bills passed in the wake of Chick’s death and the death of another child in Waldo County, those factors shouldn’t be considered because they were politically motivated. Defense attorney Jeremy Pratt singled out Sen. Bill Diamond, who had worked on child abuse issues in the Legislature and been present for much of the trial and the sentencing. The defense, saying the mitigating factors outweighed the aggravating factors, asked for a sentence of 35 years.
Stokes took both memoranda, as well as victim statements from Chick’s birth mother Alicia Chick and a second woman whose last name was not provided to the court, under advisement, and about 45 minutes later returned to deliver his sentence.
Stokes said he did not think it appropriate to sentence Gatto based on the amount of publicity or political activity after the murder, or lumping of the separate Maine murder cases involving Chick and Marissa Kennedy together, nor did he believe Diamond, whom Stokes has known for years, would want Stokes to base a sentence on pressure from him. He also said he would not take into account Gatto’s plea of not guilty nor her decision not to testify in her own defense, as those are constitutional protections.
Stokes said while the Law Court had permitted a possible life sentence in such a case, other issues would have had to be present. Sexual assault was one, torture was another. While he acknowledged that in his verdict, he said Chick’s injuries were consistent with torture, he did not believe Gatto acted to torture the child.
He set the basic sentence at 50 years, which means Gatto would get out when she is 94.
On the aggravating and mitigating factors, Stokes said he was “not without sympathy” for Gatto’s situation. “The fact that she took on the care of three small children was evidence that she wanted to do the right thing and help out her children and her fiance’s granddaughter,” he said. “I know she protested that she was not overwhelmed, but I have to believe she was. She had sole care of all those children, day in, day out, with very little help from her fiance or her sons or their significant others.”
Still, he could not get around the central question. “Why didn’t she ask for help? Kendall would still be alive if she had.”
He didn’t spare other adults in the household, as Gatto sobbed at the defense table. “People in this household knew what was going on, and they closed their eyes. Even Kendall, even a little child, must have known that what was happening to her was wrong, but she couldn’t defend herself, or even say anything.”
Chick’s grandfather Stephen Hood, sitting at the back of the courtroom, put his head in his hands.
“I do have some measure of sympathy for Ms. Gatto, and I don’t view her as a monster. But in the final analysis, the true victim is Kendall Chick,” Stokes said. “I struggled over the final sentence,” he told Gatto. “What you did do was horror,” he told her.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, who will also try the Marissa Kennedy case in August, said he was satisfied with Stokes’ sentence. “I am glad that Justice Stokes saw the gravity of the situation,” he said. There are no plans at this time to charge Hood in the Chick case, although that may change if more facts come to light, he said. “What makes me saddest is that the only one there to speak for Kendall Chick was me,” he said.
Pratt said he had no comment, except that both the verdict and the sentence would be appealed. The defense has 21 days to appeal.