WISCASSET — Shawna Gatto was sentenced Tuesday to 50 years in prison for the murder of 4-year-old Kendall Chick.

Superior Court Justice William Stokes said during a hearing Tuesday morning that he considered a life sentence for Gatto, but decided against it because he believes the 44-year-old woman got in over her head caring for Kendall and two other small children. But, he told Gatto, dozens of bruises on the little girl showed “what you did was a horror.”

Stokes had ruled that the girl’s death shortly after her fourth birthday in late 2017 was the result of brutal and repeated physical abuse, and the case helped drive a review of Maine’s child welfare system and a series of reforms intended to improve protections for abused children.

Kendall Chick died with multiple injuries.

Gatto was convicted in April by Stokes in a nonjury trial and faced a sentence of 25 years to life. She showed little emotion during the sentencing hearing and did not react visibly to the judge’s decision, except near the end of his statement, when she appeared to dab at tears in her eyes with a tissue.

Gatto kept her head down as Stokes read off a list of more than a dozens of injuries that Kendall suffered before her death in late 2017.

Stokes said that he believes Gatto had the best of intentions when she entered into an arrangement to care for Kendall – granddaughter of her fiancé – and two of her own grandchildren, but was overwhelmed by the responsibility. Custody of Kendall, who was born drug-affected, had been taken away from the girl’s mother and given to the girl’s grandfather, Stephen Hood.

Had Gatto sought help, Stokes said, Kendall probably still would be alive; but she also knew that if she had asked for help, doctors or other caregivers would recognize the abuse that the girl had suffered.

“Kendall would be alive today if there had been some intervention,” Stokes said.

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 65 years to life for Gatto, while defense lawyers argued for a 30-year sentence.

“This was a beating death, over a period of months, of a small child,” said Donald Macomber, an assistant attorney general.

But Jeremy Pratt, Gatto’s lawyer, said his client was “not the monster” that prosecutors sought to portray her as and said a life sentence was not called for in this case.

“She is someone worth giving an opportunity to get out before she dies in prison,” Pratt said.

Kendall Chick’s grandfather was among those in the courtroom Tuesday, but neither he nor any other relatives spoke in court.

After the hearing, Pratt said both the verdict and sentence would be appealed.

Gatto was convicted April 30 of depraved indifference murder, with Stokes dismissing Gatto’s contention that bruises on  Kendall were the result of accidents.

“The physical abuse suffered by Kendall Chick, when viewed objectively and in the totality of all the circumstances, can only be described as outrageous, revolting, shocking and brutal,” Stokes said in announcing his verdict. The charge, depraved indifference murder, indicates that Stokes believed Gatto showed no regard for the value of Kendall’s life, but the killing was not intentional or premeditated.

During the trial, the state’s chief medical examiner said Kendall had more than a dozen distinct injuries, including an injury to her abdomen that lacerated her pancreas and caused internal bleeding.

“She had been under stress for a long time. We’re talking weeks or months,” Dr. Mark Flomenbaum testified.

Prosecutors said Gatto had no good explanation for the girl’s injuries, which seemed to occur when no one other than Gatto was around. And Stokes said he agreed with other evidence presented by prosecutors that Kendall’s injuries were inflicted, not accidental.

Gatto’s lawyers called witnesses who described the woman as loving toward the girl and said they never saw Gatto discipline Kendall. Gatto did not take the stand during the trial and declined the opportunity to speak at the sentencing hearing.

Shawna Gatto, charged with depraved indifference murder in the death of four-year-old Kendall Chick, raises a tissue to her face during her sentencing hearing in Lincoln County Superior Court in Wiscasset. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Kendall’s death and the death of a 10-year old, Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs, prompted calls for an overhaul of the state’s child protective system. Marissa died about two months after Kendall and police allege she was beaten to death by her mother and stepfather. The parents, Sharon Carillo and Julio Carillo, have been charged with murder and will go to trial separately later this year.

An oversight committee of the Legislature launched an investigation following the deaths and found flaws in the state’s child protection system. Lawmakers have increased funding and sought changes in Department of Health and Human Services procedures as a result.

DHHS officials told lawmakers last month that they have already made changes in how they operate and are working on longer-term reform of the child welfare system.

More than 100 vacant positions for caseworkers in the Office of Child and Family Services have been filled, DHHS officials said, and caseworkers’ wages have been increased. DHHS staffers also are sharing more information on families being considered for placement of abused or neglected children. A new system reduces paperwork demands on caseworkers, the officials said, and the licensing process for foster families has been made easier.

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