AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment in Shawma Gatto’s murder conviction on Tuesday, rejecting her appeal.
Gatto of Wiscasset was sentenced to 50 years in prison last summer for the December 2017 murder of 4-year-old Kendall Chick.
Gatto, a caregiver of Chick at the time, had been found guilty April 30 of beating the child to death. The judge called her actions "repulsive."
The appeal claims there was insufficient evidence to prove that she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Gatto specifically argues that the trial court could not have found her guilty without direct evidence linking her conduct to the victim’s fatal injury.
The State of Maine Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Flomenbaum testified at trial that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the abdomen with multiple blunt force trauma to the head as a contributing cause of death. It was Dr. Flomenbaum’s opinion that Chick was the victim of child abuse syndrome and had sustained numerous nonfatal injuries that contributed to her death from a separate, ultimately-fatal injury.
When interviewed by police over the course of the investigation, Gatto denied abuse said the many injuries were a result of the girl’s “clumsiness” and “frequent falls.” There is no evidence that supports her claims the injuries were accidental or self-inflicted.
The supreme court rejected her appeal, agreeing with the trial court that the long-term abuse was “torture.”
“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,’” the court ruling says.
In her appeal, Gatto also claims the trial judge made a mistake by limiting the cross-examination of the medical examiner, specifically by not allowing questions about Dr. Flomenbaum’s removal from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Massachusetts.
Gatto said that removal from office was proof that his character wasn’t truthful, and that the cross-examination was necessary to challenge his qualification as an expert witness, and relevant to show bias.
The trial court considered allowing it but ultimately decided against allowing it because the cross-examination would not actually elicit evidence of specific instances of misconduct. They also worried the line of questioning would devolve into a “retrial of the removal case” that would “waste significant time with no attendant benefit.”
The Supreme Court affirms the trial court’s decision and said the court “did not abuse its discretion in declining to admit this evidence pursuant to Rule 608 (b).” They also say evidence of Dr. Flomenbaum’s removal does not show bias.
“The connection between Dr. Flomenbaum’s removal and his alleged bias in favor of the State of Maine to maintain his current employment is speculative at best, and its probative value, if any, is slight. The evidence is no more probative of bias than the fact, taken alone, that he is currently employed by the State.”