A woman who’s serving a 50-year prison sentence for the fatal beating of a 4-year-old girl lost her appeal Tuesday, with the state supreme court agreeing the long-term abuse was tantamount to “torture.”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected Shawna Gatto’s claims that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction and that the trial judge made a mistake by limiting the questioning of the medical examiner.

Kendall Chick died of multiple injuries.

The judge found Gatto guilty of depraved indifference murder in the death of Kendall Chick in her home in December 2017 in Wiscasset.

The medical examiner testified during the trial that the girl was covered in bruises and that the injuries had been inflicted over a period of time. Gatto never sought medical help for the child’s injuries.

“The duration of the abuse, its violence, the helplessness of the child and Gatto’s denial of medical attention to the victim were properly characterized by the trial court as ‘cruel’ and as constituting ‘torture,’” Justice Joseph Jabar wrote in the 5-0 ruling.

Shawna Gatto and her attorney, Jeremy Pratt, watch as people enter the courtroom in Lincoln County Superior Court on June 25, 2019. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Kendall was placed in the home of Gatto and her fiance, Stephen Hood, while Kendall’s mother battled addiction.

The death of Kendall and another girl, Marissa Kennedy, exposed gaps in Maine’s child welfare system and prompted outrage across the state. In both cases, child welfare officials failed to check in with the families or heed warnings of potential abuse.

“Poor job performance and inadequate supervision appear to have been factors” involving both cases, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability concluded.

Since then, there have been a number of changes in the state’s child welfare system including the hiring of more caseworkers by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

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