AUGUSTA — Attorneys for the Wiscasset woman charged with murder in the December 2017 death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick raised the possibility Friday that her fiancé – Chick’s grandfather – could have caused some of the child’s injuries.

Shawna Gatto’s trial resumed at the Capital Judicial Center with testimony from the girl’s grandfather. Stephen Hood said that although he wondered about his granddaughter’s various injuries, he never saw Gatto physically harm the girl or the other two young children who were regularly in their Wiscasset home.

Gatto, 44, has been portrayed by prosecutors as someone who was overwhelmed by taking care of three young children and who took out that frustration on Chick. The state medical examiner testified earlier in the week that Chick sustained numerous injuries, including several to the head, that were not consistent with accidents. She died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen, which lacerated her pancreas and caused internal bleeding.

Stephen Hood outside court in Augusta on Wednesday. Press Herald photo by Eric Russell

But on cross-examination by Gatto’s co-counsel, Philip Cohen, Hood acknowledged that he, too, would get frustrated, even angry, when left home alone with the children.

Cohen shared in court several text messages between Hood and Gatto that revealed he wasn’t happy about watching the children. Chick was his paternal granddaughter and had been living with them for nearly three years after being removed from her mother’s care because of substance abuse problems.

“You and I have no life,” he wrote. “The life we have sucks.”

Cohen also asked Hood about a lack of support from the state when it came to Chick.

“The entire time she was there, the (Department of Health and Human Services) checked on her once, isn’t that right?” the attorney asked.

“Yes,” Hood said.

Chick’s death, followed three months later by the death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in Stockton Springs, put a spotlight on Maine’s broken child protection system. Reforms have followed and more changes are likely under the administration of Gov. Janet Mills.

Although some details about Chick’s interaction with DHHS have been revealed at Gatto’s trial, many questions remain.

Gatto, who was arrested a week after the girl’s death, waived her right to a jury trial, which means Superior Court Justice William Stokes will render the verdict.

Hood had been called by the state on Thursday. He testified that he didn’t know what happened to Chick. The state also played a lengthy phone call Gatto placed to Hood from jail two weeks after her arrest.

Kendall Chick died with multiple injuries.

Before Hood took the stand Thursday, Stokes advised him that by testifying he risked saying something incriminating that could lead to charges. Stokes offered him the opportunity to speak with an attorney, but Hood declined.

Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, during his questioning of Hood on Friday, asked him if he understood that Gatto, through her attorney, was now suggesting that he was the one who caused Chick’s injuries.

Hood said he understood.

“Did you cause those injuries?” Alsop asked.

“No,” Hood said.

A day earlier, Hood said that he struck Chick only once, with a belt, months before her death. He said he felt so bad afterward that he vowed to never do it again.

“I didn’t want her to be afraid of me,” he said.

Alsop, in his final question to Hood before he stepped down, asked: “You think these injuries are all accidental?”

“That’s what I’ve been hanging on to,” Hood said.

After Hood’s testimony Friday, prosecutors re-called Maine State Police Detective Joshua Birmingham and played a lengthy video of his interview with Gatto the day after Chick died.

Gatto, as she had in an interview the night before immediately after Chick was declared dead, recounted various injuries the girl suffered but said they were all accidental.

But Gatto also struggled to explain some of the injuries.“I can’t turn back time and I would sure love to. I would do things different,” Gatto said in her interview.

“Like what?” the detective said.

“Well, with this knot on her head, I would have taken her in. I was trying to do the right thing. I didn’t think there was anything to worry about,” Gatto said.

“Why didn’t you take her to the doctor?”

“Just because, I mean, being afraid of what was going to happen,” she said. “She had bruises on her. Do you know how bad that looks?”

Birmingham, later in the interview, returned to whether Gatto was stressed out from watching three children by herself.

At that point, Gatto seemed to sense that the detective might be suggesting that frustration led to abuse.

Shawna Gatto, photographed Tuesday at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta, testified in her murder trial Friday that the injuries Kendall Chick suffered were all accidental. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“Yes it’s hectic, children are hectic, yes. But I’m not at the point where I’m going to beat the crap out of one of my grandkids, OK? I loved them dearly,” she said.

Although Gatto’s attorneys have not presented their defense, their cross-examination of witnesses, particularly Hood, suggests that they will raise doubt about whether Gatto caused the child’s fatal injuries.

“Is it fair to say every night since Kendall has passed that you worried you would be a suspect?” Cohen asked Hood.

“Yes,” he said.

Co-counsel Jeremy Pratt, in questioning Birmingham, asked why police didn’t consider Hood as a potential source of abuse. The attorney pointed to a text message Hood sent to Gatto two days before Chick’s death that read, in part: “I don’t know what to do. Get rid of her? How? And then we’d have to live with the guilt.”

Pratt also reminded the detective of testimony from his expert witness, Dr. Jack Daniel, a forensic expert from Virginia, who said that Chick’s fatal injury could have occurred up to 72 hours before her death, not the 1 to 12 hours estimated by Maine’s medical examiner. That timeline is significant, Pratt said, because it opens up the fact that Hood could have been home. Birmingham said he didn’t consider it.

Pratt also asked Birmingham if he was aware that Hood had a felony conviction for domestic violence out of Florida. The detective said he wasn’t.

Birmingham said he concluded that Hood didn’t have much to do with the children and his story was “believable.” Gatto, the detective maintained, had inconsistencies in her story.

The state rested its case late Friday. Her defense will begin Monday.

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