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Sharon Carrillo defense calls its first witnesses

By Kevin Miller, staff writer, Portland Press Herald | Dec 13, 2019
Photo by: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald Sharon Carrillo, right, enters Waldo County Superior Court Dec. 6 for the opening day of her trial. Carrillo is charged with depraved indifference murder in the 2018 death of her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy.

Belfast — Marissa Kennedy told her mother “I feel like I’m dying,” but her parents didn’t seek medical attention until days later, when the 10-year-old finally succumbed to the cumulative effect of months of severe abuse.

Marissa’s mother, Sharon Carrillo, recounted her daughter’s fateful words nearly a week later as she was being interviewed by a Maine State Police detective investigating the girl’s death. The three-hour interview was played Thursday for jurors who will decide whether Carrillo is guilty of murder, as state prosecutors insist, or whether she was a victim of her husband’s domestic abuse who was compelled to give false confessions, as her attorneys argue.

“I should have listened to her when she said, ‘I feel like I’m dying,’” Carrillo said through tears during the videotaped police interview. “Maybe if I had brought her to the hospital, she would never have died.”

About a day after her daughter uttered those fateful words, she began to lose her ability to speak and to walk on her own, Carrillo said. Despite these signs, Sharon Carrillo and husband Julio Carrillo not only failed to seek help for the girl, the couple continued to beat her at their Stockton Springs condominium “because my husband said she was lying about dying,” Sharon Carrillo told police in the interview.

Carrillo’s defense attorneys, however, on Thursday began their attempt to discredit any confessions the mother made to police. They suggested the veteran detectives used their well-honed interrogation techniques to get the woman, who has a low IQ, to admit to participating in abuse committed solely by her husband.

“It was only when you took a confrontational tone and started telling her she wasn’t being honest – and that she needed to agree with you – that she started to agree with you,” Carrillo attorney Christopher MacLean said to Detective Jason Andrews.

“Another term would be that I called her bluff,” Andrews replied.

Thursday was the fifth and final day of the prosecution laying out their evidence against Carrillo, who faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of depraved indifference murder in the February 2018 death of her daughter. To get a conviction, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Carrillo acted with “depraved indifference to the value of human life” and caused Marissa’s death, even if she didn’t intend to kill her daughter.

Julio Carrillo is serving a 55-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in July to murdering his stepdaughter.

Sharon Carrillo’s defense lawyers are arguing that their client never abused her daughter and gave false confessions to police out of fear of her abusive husband and because her low intellect makes her easily persuaded to say things that aren’t true.

Jurors already have watched or listened to more than six hours of police interviews with Carrillo, much of it focused on the months of severe physical abuse inflicted upon Marissa.

In the initial interview, Sharon Carrillo echoed a story told by Julio Carrillo that Marissa either had an accident or harmed herself while alone in the basement. But police and the medical examiner quickly determined Marissa’s extensive injuries were the result of prolonged abuse.

On Wednesday, Maine’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, testified that the 10-year-old’s heart simply “gave out” in response to the extreme pain, stress and injuries she suffered in the final months of her life.

During the three-hour police interview on Feb. 26, 2018, one day after Marissa’s death, Andrews pressed Sharon Carrillo on why the couple never sought medical attention for her daughter. Carrillo said the couple didn’t take her to the hospital because they feared losing custody of their other two children and going to jail.

“We should have known,” Carrillo said through sobs. “Even before her speech completely went away, she said, ‘It feels like I’m dying.'”

“She said that?” Andrews responded, incredulous.

“I should have listened to her,” Carrillo said.

Carrillo’s statements to police changed repeatedly during her police interviews. After initially denying any abuse in the household, she slowly admits in response to repeated prodding from the detectives that she and Julio Carrillo would slap, punch and hit Marissa with a belt, often while she was on her knees and naked or nearly naked.

But in his cross-examination of Andrews, the state police investigator, MacLean suggested that his client only agreed that she participated in those beatings at the insistence of detectives. As is common in murder cases with multiple suspects, the detectives interviewed Julio and Sharon Carrillo separately and then used each person’s statements to extract additional details or confessions from the other.

MacLean and his co-counsel, Laura Shaw, contend that Carrillo has a mental disability – with an IQ below 98 percent of the population – that makes her particularly vulnerable to persuasion. And on Thursday, he walked Andrews and the jury through instance after instance in which Carrillo can be heard agreeing to detectives’ statements that she had participated in various types of beatings rather than making such statements on her own.

As further proof, MacLean pointed to a lengthy exchange between the detective and Carrillo about whether she and her husband had received text messages from Carrillo’s stepmother advising them on how to punish Marissa.

Carrillo repeatedly denied having ever seen the purported text messages, which she said her husband would read to her from his phone. But she eventually agreed in her interview with Andrews that they concocted a story about the text messages from her stepmother and devised the punishments themselves.

“But we know today that there were text messages … so she falsely confessed to you that she was lying about there being text messages, right?” MacLean said.

“Correct,” Andrews replied.

After the state rested its case, the defense began its case by calling its first three witnesses to the stand individually. All three were former neighbors of the Carrillos – a couple who lived several units away from the Stockton Springs condo owned by Sharon Carrillo’s father, and a woman who lived in an apartment below the Carrillos in Bangor.

The latter witness, Jennifer Engstrom, described hearing “constant fighting, slamming, throwing stuff and kids crying” to the point that the noise prevented her daughter from sleeping in her bedroom. Engstrom also recalled seeing Julio Carrillo twice kick his wife’s knees out from under her, causing her to fall while she was carrying an infant and groceries.

“I heard him state a few times that he would want to kill her … but she would state that she wanted to kill him as well,” she said.

The defense will resume its case on Friday.

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