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Jury finds Sharon Carrillo guilty of murder in death of 10-year-old daughter

By Kevin Miller, staff writer, Portland Press Herald | Dec 19, 2019
Photo by: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald Sharon Carrillo weeps in court after being found guilty Wednesday of murdering her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy. The prosecution says it will seek a life sentence for Carrillo.

Belfast — Jurors found Sharon Carrillo guilty on Wednesday of murdering her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy, in an abuse case that shocked Mainers and revealed fatal flaws in the state’s child welfare system.

Jurors deliberated for about 4 1/2 hours before emerging with their unanimous decision. Carrillo began to cry as the jury foreman announced the verdict and then sobbed while shaking her head as she was led from the courtroom in the Waldo County Judicial Center in Belfast.

“We love you!” said one of Carrillo’s family members, who believe she was pressured into giving false confessions by a controlling and abusive husband.

The 35-year-old mother of three surviving children – including a boy she gave birth to after her arrest – faces 25 years to life in prison on the charge of depraved indifference murder. Superior Court Justice Robert Murray tentatively scheduled sentencing for Feb. 7, and Carrillo will be held without bail until that time.

Carrillo’s estranged husband, Julio Carrillo, was sentenced in August to 55 years after pleading guilty to murdering his stepdaughter.

Marissa was found dead in February 2018 inside the Stockton Springs condominium where Sharon and Julio Carrillo were living with her and two younger children. While the couple tried to depict Marissa’s death as an accident or the result of self-inflicted injuries, police and medical personnel quickly determined that the girl had been severely abused for a prolonged period.

Jurors sat through eight days of emotional testimony and viewed numerous photos of Marissa’s badly bruised and broken body.

Speaking after the verdict, Assistant Attorney General Don Macomber said justice began with Julio Carrillo receiving essentially a life sentence because of his age.

“In this case, the jury has brought us to full justice for Marissa by finding Sharon Carrillo guilty of her own daughter’s murder, and it is our intention to seek a life sentence for Sharon Carrillo,” Macomber said while holding a large photograph of a smiling Marissa. “(Sharon Carrillo) sure did not accept responsibility in this case. She cast herself as a victim. The jury, by its verdict, rejected that finding.”

One of Carrillo’s attorneys, Christopher MacLean, said he respected the verdict but suggested the questions of Julio Carrillo’s abuse of Sharon Carrillo as well as his client’s low intelligence presented the jury with difficult and “novel issues.”

“But I can also say this is the first stage in the process,” MacLean said. “We are not done fighting for Sharon Carrillo. We intend to fight at her sentencing hearing for the lowest possible sentence that can be given to her after everything she has been through. And as soon as that is over, we intend to take an appeal to the Maine Supreme Court.”

State prosecutors were able to use Sharon Carrillo’s recorded confessions to police as they laid out their case.

The jury watched or listened to more than six hours of interviews with Carrillo, during which she eventually acknowledged – in response to persistent prodding and questioning from police – to helping Julio Carrillo abuse her first-born daughter.

Maine’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, testified that he found 40 to 50 “blunt-force injuries” on Marissa’s body as well as three semi-healed broken ribs, blood on her brain and a lacerated liver. The girl also had deep, infected wounds on her knees and feet after weeks or months of being forced to kneel on a tile floor – often naked with her hands raised above her head – while she was being slapped, hit and struck with a belt or mop handle.

Flomenbaum said the girl’s heart eventually “gave out” from the chronic stress, injuries and infections caused by months of abuse.

Carrillo’s defense attorneys, meanwhile, argued that those were false confessions offered by a domestic abuse victim with low intellect who lived in fear of her controlling husband. Multiple witnesses testified to seeing or hearing him abuse both Marissa and Sharon Carrillo.

Speaking to reporters outside of the Belfast courthouse, Sharon Carrillo’s father and stepmother, Joseph and Roseann Kennedy, said prosecutors dismissed the potential role that Julio Carrillo’s control and abuse of his wife played in what her attorneys said were false confessions.

The couple helped raise Marissa from birth to roughly age 8 at their New York home before Sharon and Julio Carrillo married and moved to Maine. After a tumultuous year in Bangor, the Carrillos moved into the Stockton Springs condo the Kennedys had bought for their retirement.

During the trial, jurors heard how Julio Carrillo reportedly told his wife that her parents were instructing them how to physically punish the girl for misbehavior and he frequently kept her from talking to them without him present. But neither Joseph nor Roseann Kennedy ever sent such text messages, which the defense suggested that Julio Carrillo wrote and then read to his wife and stepdaughter.

“I think domestic abuse – not only spousal abuse but child abuse – is blatantly prevalent in today’s society and for it to be overlooked in this case is, as far as I'm concerned, a travesty,” Joseph Kennedy said. “Sharon was basically convicted because she is of low intelligence, and I don’t think that’s a crime.”

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said Sharon Carrillo provided detailed information about “her own involvement in the torture of her own daughter” that only someone involved in the abuse would know.

“What our position is on whether Sharon Carrillo was a victim of domestic violence or not doesn’t matter because this was the case of the state of Maine versus Sharon Carrillo for what she did to her daughter,” Zainea said. “And it was about holding her accountable for actions that led to her daughter’s death.”

Carrillo’s attorneys faced the difficult task of discrediting their client’s own admissions.

“I should have stopped, I should have stopped,” Carrillo said through tears during one interview.

“Why didn’t you?” a detective asked Carrillo.

Sobbing, Carrillo responded, “I don’t know.”

In another video, Carrillo is seen calmly walking detectives through the Stockton Springs condo showing them where and how Marissa was punished as well as the belt that was used. A state police forensic analyst later matched “patterned” bruises and abrasions on Marissa’s skin to the belt’s metal buckle.

To counter those confessions, defense attorneys MacLean and Laura Shaw highlighted their client’s IQ of roughly 70 – below 98 percent of the population – while portraying her as another victim of Julio Carrillo.

Two expert witnesses called by the defense – including the state-employed forensic psychologist who evaluated Sharon Carrillo – testified that the defendant was potentially more vulnerable to persuasion or giving false confessions.

The trial also highlighted systemic failures within the programs that are supposed to protect children from abuse.

Multiple neighbors, a housekeeper, a school nurse, Marissa’s guidance counselor and the girl’s doctor reported suspected abuse to police or expressed concerns about the girl’s family situation to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Subsequent investigations identified systemic flaws, poor communication between agencies and multiple missed opportunities to protect Marissa.

“Maine government failed to do its job, starting from the police down to DHHS, and I have a dead granddaughter because of this,” Joseph Kennedy said. “I do not think justice was done today.”

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