A Wiscasset woman was indicted by a grand jury this week in connection with the Dec. 8 death of 4-year-old girl who had been in her care.

The Lincoln County clerk’s office said Friday that an indictment was handed up Wednesday for Shawna Gatto, 43, on a single count of depraved indifference murder.

Under Maine law, that means that even if she didn’t intentionally cause the death of Kendall Chick, prosecutors believe Gatto engaged in conduct showing a “depraved indifference to the value of human life” that ultimately caused the girl’s death.

Most murder charges in Maine are classified under the more familiar definition of intentional or knowing murder, but both carry the same penalty – 25 years to life in prison.

Gatto has been held at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset since her Dec. 14 arrest. She is entitled to a bail hearing but one has not yet been scheduled.

Her attorney, Philip Cohen, did not return a call for comment Friday.

According to an affidavit filed last month, police believe Gatto caused the death of Chick, who died of blunt-force trauma to the abdomen but also had serious injuries to her head, neck and limbs.

Gatto was caring for Chick in the home they shared with Stephen Hood, the girl’s grandfather and Gatto’s fiance, as well as two of Gatto’s grandchildren. Emergency personnel were called to the home after Chick was found unresponsive in an empty bathtub.

According to police, it was Gatto who called 911 after finding the girl. She said she stepped away to get the girl some chocolate milk and returned to find her unconscious.

Chick was taken by ambulance to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick but could not be saved.

According to a police report and an application for a search warrant filed with the court, Gatto’s account of what happened did not align with the forensic evidence gathered from the home or with the evidence found during Chick’s autopsy.

The medical examiner’s report showed Chick had suffered blunt-force trauma to her abdomen resulting in lacerations to her pancreas and parts of her digestive tract. That blow to the abdomen occurred between one and 12 hours before she died, court records say.

In addition to the abdominal injuries, the girl had suffered multiple injuries of varying age to her head, neck and limbs, indicating she suffered trauma in the past. A further microscopic examination of her thymus gland showed signs of chronic physiological stress.

There also was physical evidence in the home that seemed to point to prior instances of violence against the girl. Evidence technicians found red-brown stains that presumptively tested positive for blood on sheets of a bunk bed where Chick slept and on the bathtub where she was found by emergency personnel. Technicians also documented blood near a round indentation in a wall in Chick’s bedroom that seemed to correspond with the size of the girl’s head.

Blood also was found on paper towels in a wastebasket in the bathroom and on a towel in a laundry hamper in the kitchen. A sponge found in the bathtub also tested positive for blood.

The girl had been placed at the home in January by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, according to the affidavit, although it was not clear why the state was involved or whether the girl was legally in the custody of the state when she died. The girl’s parents have not been identified.

It is state policy to give priority to family members whenever DHHS officials make decisions about placement for a child who is involved with the child welfare system. All placement providers must meet basic health and safety requirements.

A DHHS spokeswoman last month refused to confirm or deny the agency’s involvement in the case, citing confidentiality laws.

Hood, Gatto’s fiance, has not commented publicly. No one answered the phone at his residence Friday.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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