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Mother describes woman charged with murder as a ‘child in a woman’s body’

By Kevin Miller, staff writer, Portland Press Herald | Dec 16, 2019
Courtesy of: Portland Press Herald Marissa Kennedy

Belfast — A former neighbor saw Julio Carrillo forcefully smack 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in the head, and other neighbors practically broke down Julio and Sharon Carrillo’s apartment door to stop suspected abuse.

“We had gone down there and … were pounding on it, telling him to ‘Stop beating your kids, stop beating your wife,'” one former neighbor, Ethan Miele, told jurors Friday, the sixth day of Sharon Carrillo’s trial on a murder charge.

The additional details of the violent environment in which Marissa lived – and died – emerged Friday as Sharon Carrillo’s defense attorneys sought to cast their client as a domestic violence victim herself who never actually abused Marissa before her February 2018 death.

Sharon Carrillo’s father and stepmother described their daughter as “a child in a woman’s body” who deeply loved Marissa but lost control of her life to a husband who gradually estranged her from her own family. Roseann Kennedy said her stepdaughter – who was diagnosed with a learning disability as a child – was persuaded by Julio Carrillo to falsely agree to accept half of the blame for essentially beating Marissa to death in the final months of her life.

“That was a Julio statement, that did not come out of her mouth without being told by him,” Kennedy testified. “After seeing how many times he had such control over her, I believe that he told her and she had no choice because her brain was gone. Her brain was gone.”

Sharon Carrillo faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of causing Marissa’s death in the Stockton Springs condominium owned by her father and stepmother, who live in New York.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office determined the girl died of “battered child syndrome” following months of severe abuse, including being punched, kicked, struck with a belt and a mop handle. Julio Carrillo was sentenced to 55 years in prison in August after pleading guilty to murder.

On Thursday afternoon, state prosecutors rested their case against Sharon Carrillo after five days of testimony that included more than six hours of recorded police interviews with the defendant. While Carrillo initially denied any involvement in her daughter’s abuse, she gradually acknowledged – in response to persistent prodding from detectives – that she helped her husband beat Marissa.

Carrillo’s attorneys argue their simple-minded client gave false confessions during those intense police interrogations partly out of fear of her abusive husband.

On Friday morning, Julio Carrillo pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination when he was asked a series of questions about whether he alone abused Marissa. The proceeding was held separately before Superior Court Justice Robert Murray without the jury present.

However, several other defense witnesses who testified Friday seemed to corroborate Julio Carrillo’s violent tendencies.

Randy Poulin, who lived next to the Bangor apartment building where the Carrillos resided before Stockton Springs, recalled seeing Julio Carrillo give Marissa some heavy-looking boxes to carry as they were moving in. And when the young girl dropped them, Poulin said, her stepfather hit her so hard in the head that she fell down.

“He hit her like he would hit another guy,” Poulin testified. “I wouldn’t want to be hit like that.”

Poulin said he also saw Julio Carrillo shake Marissa and appear to hit Sharon Carrillo in the face on one occasion. He and other neighbors called the Bangor Police Department after one incident, prompting one of what Poulin said were “many” police visits to the Carrillo apartment.

Miele said he also called Bangor police multiple times, as well as the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, to report suspected abuse in the apartment below him. Miele described hearing a child yelling, “Daddy stop … daddy, please stop.”

After one particularly vicious and late fight, Miele said he and a roommate decided to take matters into their own hands. Julio Carrillo refused to answer the door until they effectively knocked it off the hinges. Miele acknowledges he and his roommate threatened Julio Carrillo and were later instructed by Bangor police to let them handle the situation.

“We did find it bad enough that we had to go down and intervene because it seemed like, at that point, no one else was intervening,” said Miele, who now lives in North Carolina.

Marissa’s killing and the abuse-related death of a 4-year-old Wiscasset girl months earlier prompted intense scrutiny of Maine’s child welfare system as well as how schools, police and social service agencies handle abuse concerns. Reform efforts are ongoing, but critics contend more work is needed.

On Friday, jurors also heard how staff at Fairmount School in Bangor reported concerns about potential abuse to DHHS. Several staff members even paid unannounced visits to the Carrillo household to inquire about Marissa’s absences, but never reported seeing any physical signs of abuse on either Marissa or her mother.

Likewise, neither Joseph nor Roseann Kennedy ever saw any proof of physical abuse on either their daughter or granddaughter during visits with the family. But the pair, who still live in the area of upstate New York where Sharon Carrillo grew up, testified that they were growing increasingly concerned as contact with their daughter and the granddaughter they had helped raise grew increasingly rare and strange.

Roseann Kennedy testified that Sharon Carrillo did not speak her first word until age 4 and that she was diagnosed with “broadbased learning disability with speech delays” as a child. Carrillo “thrived” at the special schools for developmentally disabled children, but struggled to hold down jobs after graduation despite a strong work ethic.

“She’ll do what you say, but it is concrete – no inference, no ability to read between the lines,” Kennedy said.

Joseph Kennedy described his daughter as being so close to Marissa that some people thought they were sisters as they “were constantly laughing, and having fun.”

“They loved each other,” Kennedy said. “Sharon was a loving mother to that little girl. I had never, in the years that the two of them lived at my house, I never saw Sharon once raise her hand to Marissa or raise her voice to that little girl.”

Things changed when Sharon and Julio Carrillo moved to Maine in 2016 with Marissa and had two more children. Over time, the Kennedys’ phone conversations with their daughter and Marissa became less frequent, and when they spoke, it seemed that Julio Carrillo was guiding their responses.

The couple testified they witnessed similar behavior during visits to Maine, where both Sharon Carrillo and Marissa would constantly look to Julio for permission on everyday things. The Kennedys also found it strange that the entire five-person family – Julio, Sharon, Marissa, a toddler and an infant – were sleeping in one bedroom in a four-bedroom condo.

“When we did see Sharon in August and October, Sharon was quiet, more withdrawn,” Joseph Kennedy said. “It wasn’t the same old Sharon that we knew and loved. We thought maybe it was the stress of having two infants there at the house.”

Carrillo never told either parent that she or Marissa was being abused by Julio Carrillo, although Roseann Kennedy told prosecutors that “she never would have had an opportunity to tell me” because her husband was always looming.

Earlier this week, defense attorneys said Sharon Carrillo never confessed to anything that the Maine State Police detectives didn’t first tell her about, suggesting that she was simply agreeing with their narrative.

Testifying for the defense, forensic psychologist Dr. Michael O’Connell said Carrillo’s IQ of 70 is in the “borderline range” for intellectual disability and falls below 98 percent of the population. O’Connell, who specializes in false confession analysis, also said Carrillo’s anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder could further cloud her judgment.

O’Connell said individuals with lower IQs are more vulnerable to being manipulated or giving false confessions, particularly in response to the psychologically “coercive” interrogations often used by police. Compounding those factors, O’Connell said, was Julio Carrillo’s reportedly abusive and controlling relationship with his wife.

After watching the six-plus hours of police interviews, O’Connell determined that the detectives’ use of Julio Carrillo’s confessions while questioning Sharon Carrillo “would have a significant impact” on her.

“My opinion is that she is vulnerable and she was in a coercive situation involving her husband that put her at risk for saying something when she didn’t do it,” O’Connell said.

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