ELLSWORTH — A woman accused in the Oct. 18, 2017, death of 2-year-old Kloe Hawksley in Bucksport was sentenced to 20 years in prison, all but 10 years suspended, Thursday.
Savannah Smith, 22, appeared before Justice Robert Murray and pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter in the toddler’s death. Smith and Kloe’s father, Tyler Hawksley of Bucksport, had been living together at the time of the girl’s death. They had started dating in June 2017, said Maine Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin.
The Maine Office of the Attorney General had initially charged Smith, a Bucksport native, with murder. She was arrested in April 2019.
However, Smith’s defense attorneys, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor and Mary Kellett-Gray, negotiated with Robbin for a 10-year prison sentence in exchange for Smith pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Robbin laid out the facts of the case for Murray before sentencing, including the cause of the toddler’s death: “blunt force trauma of the torso with multiple organ lacerations.”
The medical examiner observed numerous bruises on Kloe, including on the top of her head, her chest, her back and her abdomen, and scratches on her face.
“Kloe was the victim of repeated physical abuse,” said Robbin. The medical examiner also determined, from examining the little girl’s heart and her thymus gland, that she had suffered from “chronic stress.”
The examiner determined that Kloe’s fatal injury was inflicted between 3 and 11 p.m. on Oct. 17, 2017. That was the day before Bucksport first responders were called to the home.
The prosecutor said Kloe died approximately 4 to 10 hours after the injury was inflicted and at least 4 to 6 hours before first responders were called.
On Oct. 18, 2017, at 7:16 a.m., Smith called 911 from Hawksley’s home to report “a 2-year-old child not breathing and cold and hard” and “screamed into the phone ‘It won’t wake up,’” said Robbin.
Robbin said Bucksport first responder John Gavelek, who is the Fire Department’s captain and a paramedic, was first on the scene and found Hawksley lying next to Kloe’s “lifeless body.” Gavelek could not find a pulse, Robbin said.
“Savannah was the sole adult caregiver from 8:30 am to 6:30 p.m. on the 17th,” Robbin said. “Savannah was the last adult to see Kloe conscious.”
The dead toddler’s mother, father and paternal grandmother addressed the judge and asked for justice for Kloe.
Her mother, Keeli Cousins, said “the pain is unexplainable.”
“I have night terrors about what happened to Kloe,” said Cousins. “I will never be able to unsee my daughter lying in the casket.”
Kloe has an older brother, Owen, who is now 7. He was 4 when Kloe died.
“Owen was in the shower when it was discovered Kloe was dead,” Cousins said. “He won’t take showers because he’s afraid someone will die.”
“No amount of time served will bring my baby back,” the mother said.
Tyler Hawksley said his daughter loved to hand him tools and work on projects together.
“We’ll never have our father-daughter dance,” he said. “I’ll never get to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. I’ll never have the memories that mean so much to any parent.”
Tyler Hawksley’s mother, Lisa Bas, also spoke to the judge.
“She [Kloe] was so much to so many people and that’s something we can never get back,” Bas said. “I just hope that you can see through everything and we can get justice for Kloe.”
Defense attorney Kellett-Gray gave Murray a synopsis of Smith’s life before the events of Oct. 18, 2017.
“She is just 22 now,” Kellett-Gray said. “In October of 2017, she had just turned 20 years old. She worked hard to make a nice home for their blended family.”
“She’s accepted responsibility by entering a plea here today and sparing the family a trial,” the defense attorney said. “She is definitely a probation candidate because of her youth but also her willingness to grow and learn and contribute to society.”
Smith addressed the court herself.
“I’m sorry for the role I had in what happened,” Smith said. “I can’t take back anything I did or didn’t do. I am hurting as well. I recognize why they’re hurting the way they are.”
Smith told the judge her plans included working on her education while she is incarcerated.
Smith’s mother, Sara Stokely, spoke as well, and attributed her daughter’s issues in part to “an early introduction to cannabis.”
“Savannah has always been a person who lights up a room when she enters it,” said Stokely.
“Savannah is funny even when she doesn’t try to be. She always has a hard time saying no, even to the people she loves the most. Savannah has always been the fun, cool aunt.”
During sentencing, Murray also ordered that Smith serve four years of probation upon her release from prison. A condition of her probation is that she have no contact with children under the age of 10 except for her nieces and nephews under the condition that the children initiate contact and a guardian approves.