In a brief opening statement for Kendall Chick’s alleged murderer Shawna Gatto on Monday, defense attorney Philip Cohen asserted that while “human nature” wanted someone to blame for the death of the 4-year-old, the legal system required more. “Human nature is in conflict with the principles of our legal system,” he said. “There should be proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, we don’t know the time of the injury. We don’t know the cause of the injury. We don’t know who caused it. There are too many unknowns.”
A series of character witnesses, including Gatto’s stepson, Brian Ricker, followed. Ricker lived with Gatto when he was a young school-age boy through his mid-teens, when she and his father divorced. Ricker said Gatto had never physically disciplined him, even though she was responsible for four active and sometimes unruly boys, including her own two sons, Josh and Jordan, and Brian Ricker and his younger brother Dallas.
His father, Donald Ricker, testified that he had never seen Gatto physically discipline the boys.
A neighbor, Donna Wilt, of Brunswick, said she had never seen Gatto physically discipline any of the children in her care, including, for a time, Chick. When, under cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, she was asked if she had seen Chick at the end of her life, she said no. She said she didn’t know how Chick had come by her injuries. When Alsop asked if she had seen any of the photos, and began searching for an image to show her, she said, “No, and I don’t want to.” She also indicated that Stephen Hood often texted Gatto to return to the house, especially when he was left alone with Chick and Gatto’s grandson.
Heather Berry, the mother of Gatto’s son Jordan’s son, said that she was always very kind, but that Hood would yell at the kids. While she never saw him get physical with the young children, she said there was one situation when he was angry that the trash containers were not brought back up to the house, and he and Jordan ended up in a physical confrontation. She said Jordan tripped him, but under redirect, she said Hood was yelling and coming toward the bedroom where she was recuperating after surgery along with her baby son. She said Hood punched Jordan in the face.
Josh Gatto also testified on his mother’s behalf; he and his then-wife Danielle Coffin had separated. Coffin, whose two children were also in Gatto’s care, was working at Mid Coast Hospital the night of Chick’s death, and had seen the child’s body, texting to her mother-in-law, “I’ve never seen something so bad in my life. Did she hit her head off something? That was horrible,” according to police records at the time. Coffin was one of the parties Gatto would have been forbidden to contact as a bail condition, though Gatto never made bail. Josh said he never witnessed her physically discipline either Chick or either of his two children with Coffin.
After a long recess, Justice Geoffrey Rushlau asked Gatto whether or not she would take the stand in her own defense. Rushlau was the former District Attorney for Prosecutorial District VI, which includes Lincoln County. Gatto indicated she would not testify. When Justice William Stokes returned to the bench, the defense rested, and the state rested finally.
Closing arguments are scheduled for 1 p.m., with a verdict expected at 1 p.m. April 30 at the Capital Judicial Center.