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Defense attorney argues abuse warrants new trial for Kennedy

Evidence of domestic violence should have been considered
By Fran Gonzalez | Nov 17, 2020
Photo by: Fran Gonzalez Sharon Kennedy is consoled by her attorney, Laura Shaw, during sentencing at Waldo County Judicial Center Feb. 21. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments remotely in Kennedy's appeal Nov. 17.

Augusta — Chris MacLean, attorney for Sharon Kennedy, said it was "outrageous" that the trial court did not consider her domestic abuse as a mitigating factor in her sentencing.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard Kennedy's appeal Tuesday, Nov. 17, where  MacLean argued for a new trial.

Formerly known as Sharon Carrillo, Kennedy was sentenced to 48 years in prison Feb. 21 for her role in the 2018 death of her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy.

Marissa was found dead in February 2018 inside the Stockton Springs condominium where she lived with Sharon and her stepfather, Julio Carrillo, and two younger children.

MacLean said just as the death of Marissa Kennedy exposed systematic failures in the child protective system, Kennedy's conviction exposes the barriers to victims of domestic violence.

The record shows "overwhelming and irrefutable" evidence of the domestic violence that Kennedy experienced, MacLean said, including direct evidence of witnesses who saw Julio "punching and kicking" Kennedy in public.

In addition, he said there were, "hundreds of pages of records" from mental health and treatment providers documenting the control Julio Carrillo was exerting over Kennedy and cataloging their concerns about Kennedy in the home with Julio Carrillo.

Beyond that, MacLean said, "The record shows a haunting photograph of a naked Sharon Carrillo eight months pregnant kneeling on her kitchen floor, with her 10-year-old daughter nearly naked at her side, both placed with their hands in the air in a torture setting."

Because Kennedy called Julio "honey" and told detectives when asked that she was not a victim of domestic violence, MacLean said, the state argued that she was not a victim.

She was not allowed to argue duress to the jury, MacLean said, or explain that her silence was caused by the domestic violence she was exposed to at the hands of her husband.

"None of this was allowed to be used at sentencing," MacLean said. "The court specifically found that being a domestic violence torture victim was not a mitigating factor that could play any role in reducing the sentence...

"...that's outrageous and it needs to be corrected," he said. "Domestic violence matters, and it should matter in our court system."

One justice told MacLean he did get his point across about Kennedy's being abused by Carrillo in closing arguments. "You did get the idea to the jury his role in dominating her," he said.

MacLean said the jury did not get to consider duress or why Kennedy might have been silent at his side.

Another justice questioned MacLean's use of the word "torture," saying Marissa had physical signs of being abused, while Kennedy did not.

"There was no broken bones, no ruptured spleen, there was no indication that she had any healing fractures or internal injuries," she said. "In fact, while incarcerated (she) gave birth to a healthy child, correct?"

To which MacLean answered, "All of that is true."

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said MacLean "grossly overstated" the evidence of domestic violence at the trial. Kennedy admitted to the detectives that she and her husband beat her daughter to the point that her daughter said, "it feels like I'm dying."

In her final days, Marissa could not walk or speak, Robbin said, and what would warrant such abuse? Kennedy told detectives that Marissa was lying and being disrespectful. "She wouldn't listen," Kennedy said.

Kennedy's initial statement to police was that her daughter inflicted the injuries on herself. "Her statement did not pass the straight-face test," Robbin added.

Ultimately Kennedy admitted that she and her husband caused Marissa's injuries, but added it was her stepmother's idea. That story, Robbin said, also did not pass the straight-face test. Kennedy later admitted she made up those stories because she did not want to have her two younger children taken away, and did not want to go to jail.

Robbin said the detectives used no "trickery, threats, promises or inducements to obtain her admissions."

Kennedy's cognitive limitations did not deprive her of making voluntary statements to detectives, she said. "It might have limited her ability to spin a better web of deception," Robbin said.

The court will take the arguments under advisement and will issue a decision in due course, one justice said.

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