BELFAST — The trial of Sharon Carrillo continued Monday, Dec. 9, with a social worker the first witness called for the day. Carrillo is on trial for the murder of her daughter, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, who died from battered child syndrome after months of sustained beatings.
Suzanne Webber has worked in the field of social work for nearly 25 years spread across two agencies, Graham Behavioral Services, of Rockland, and Home Counselors Inc.
Webber's involvement with the Carrillo family began when she was referred to the family by Child Protective Services, making her first visit to the home around Oct. 20.
Neither Sharon nor Marissa were in the home at the time of the visit. Sharon was reportedly in Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, in a unit that works with patients with psychiatric issues, as well as those struggling with substance abuse. Webber said she later learned about Marissa, who was reportedly at Acadia Hospital and treated through Sweetser. Sweetser is a nonprofit that has a residential facility for children through 18 with behavioral, mental health, and/or substance abuse issues. There is a Sweetser school in Belfast, at the old Robertson School, and a residential facility on Route 1.
Webber said that during the initial visit, one of six conducted during the four months she was working with the family, she reviewed how home support can help the family, and identified issues and needs.
When she returned to the Carrillo home a week later, Webber spoke with Sharon without Julio, who was at work. The two younger children were at home, but Marissa still wasn't there.
During her interview, Sharon was able to report historical information about the family and young children she and Julio shared. Webber also asked about domestic violence in the household, since there had been a report that there was suspicion it was taking place.
Webber said that she asked Sharon pointed questions about domestic violence in the household and that Sharon had denied she was being abused.
When Webber inquired about why Marissa was in Acadia she was reportedly told she was there for behavioral concerns, including self-injurious behavior like pinching. Webber said her understanding was that Marissa was still hospitalized.
Webber saw the family six times in four months; she said that there had been cancellations by the Carrillos or times when they weren't at home.
Of the six visits, Webber said she saw Marissa twice, once in early December and February 23, 2018, just two days before Marissa succumbed to her many injuries.
Webber said Sharon and Marissa were already in the finished basement when she arrived that day, with both sitting on the brown couch set away from the rest of the room. Webber said she noticed a bruise on Marissa's eye as well as scratches. When she asked Marissa what had happened she did not respond. Webber also noticed small bruises on her arms and said at one point Marissa appeared to fall asleep and slumped over onto Sharon's stomach.
The day after her visit, Webber received a text from Julio indicating that there were concerns for Sharon's behavior and said he may call crisis services or the police. Webber did not know or check to see if the police had been called, she said after being questioned by Sharon Carillo’s attorney, Chris MacLean. This was her last contact with the family prior to being notified of Marissa's death.
MacLean, began his cross-examination by saying that although Webber met with prosecutors twice to discuss her testimony, she refused to speak with defense attorneys, and had evaded a subpoena the defense tried to have her served with. Another time the server traveled to Webber's work office. Webber denied being at the office but later confirmed she had come out of her office with a large man who then gave the server the finger.
During 19 of the years of her career, Webber’s work was contracted through the Department of Health and Human Services.
When asked about her understanding of domestic violence, Webber noted that she mostly thought about it as occurring between adults rather than also involving children, who she said could be impacted by the "trickle-down."
MacLean said there was information about the Carrillo family available to Webber via a specific Maine Dept. of Health and Human Service online system. The available information included multiple police reports where Julio was the aggressor and talked about Sharon's mental health. Webber also had a report that Julio did the speaking for the family and would not allow Marissa nor Sharon to speak alone. Sharon also refused to sign a medical release form.
Webber made notes in her reports that Sharon was quiet, MacLean said as he looked over a copy of Webber’s report.
When asked whether she inquired about child abuse in the Carrillo household Webber responded: "I don't recall whether I did or not." She said that that was a question she usually asked.
MacLean asked Webber about notes she had reportedly made about Julio being "pleasant" and "very charming." Webber stated she didn't remember saying "very."
According to MacLean, Webber also made notes that she couldn't get Sharon to liven up, writing she seemed sad and subdued. She said she tried to get Sharon to laugh and couldn't get her to smile.
Webber denied remembering making an unannounced house visit, but said if it was “in her notes then it happened.”
After being handed a copy of the report she made following her visit, Webber read something Julio said that caught her attention. According to Webber's report, Julio said there was a hole in the bedroom wall that he claimed Sharon made. Webber said she did not view the hole.
Webber said Julio often called Sharon crazy and that Sharon would remain quiet if she was around when the statement was made.
On her final visit to the home, Feb. 23, 2018, Julio answered the door and seemed to be his usual self, which MacLean pointed out she had previously said he was charming.
She disagreed with MacLean about the size of the bruises she saw on Marissa’s forehead and when asked whether she looked her over any further, said she had not.
When Julio was asked about Marissa's drowsy nature, Julio reportedly attributed it to emotional things, which Webber said she accepted.
Jurors also learned that Julio had terminated services with Acadia after threatening the staff there, according to MacLean.
On the second to last visit, which Webber made Jan. 24, 2018, Julio told her the previous few days had been hard for Sharon. He reportedly said that Sharon had been swearing, hitting walls, and throwing tantrums. Webber said Julio told her it got so bad that he called the police. He also reportedly said he made videos, including one about four hours before Webber arrived.
Julio reportedly feared DHHS would remove the children if Sharon's behavior continued. He also reportedly said Sharon had threatened to take a whole bottle of pills, though Webber did not ask Sharon if that was true. Instead, Sharon remained silent.
Webber's conclusion on that day was reportedly that the children were safe because Julio has taken steps to secure them, according to her report.
Observations Webber made on her final visit to the home included that Marissa had glassy eyes and when she looked at her it was like Marissa was looking right through her.
Following cross-examination prosecutors briefly reexamined Webber, asking her why she didn't want to meet MacLean.
"Frankly, I didn't want to come to court and was not comfortable meeting him," Webber said.
Maine State Police Detective Jason Andrews, who was one of two detectives to interview both Carrillos the day of Marissa's death, then took the stand.
The audio from one of the day's interviews with Sharon Carrillo was played for jurors.
Before being separated, Sharon can be heard interacting with her younger children in an upbeat voice and even laughs at several points during the interview when detectives tried to lighten the mood or say something to encourage Sharon to continue speaking.
There are also multiple occasions where she cried while being questioned about what happened to Marissa.
Both involved detectives maintained a conversational tone throughout the hour-plus interview, with each taking turns telling personal anecdotes about their own childhoods and the ways they were punished as children.
Although there were multiple times when Sharon was crying to some degree, for much of the interview, she was able to answer the questions. During the course of the interview, the events of the day were gone over multiple times, with Sharon revealing more information as detectives asked her variations of the same questions.
Initially, when asked what happened, Sharon said Julio had told her that Marissa was going to the finished basement to watch a movie. Two to three hours later she said Julio went to check on Marissa and found her in the furnace area breathing irregularly and immediately brought her upstairs and put her in a living room chair. Once in the chair, Sharon said Marissa threw up blood, prompting her and Julio to start CPR compressions.
When asked by detectives what she thought happened, Sharon repeated that her husband found her in the furnace room, where there were also metal chairs and her father’s tools.
Later in the interview, Sharon stated that there is an additional room in the basement where her parent’s store things, but that she didn’t think Marissa would go in there.
Detectives circled back to the morning, asking Sharon to walk them through the day prior to Marissa’s death, a day which she said everyone got along and “Marissa was really good.”
There was no breakfast the day Marissa died, though Sharon couldn’t remember why, only that they had remained in the bedroom watching Thomas the Train. She said that was when Marissa decided to go watch a movie and she could hear Despicable Me playing in the basement. Prior to going to the basement to watch a movie, Sharon said Marissa had been sitting in the living room alone for roughly an hour, just sitting and looking around.
Not content with the answer, one of the detectives said, “walk me through [the morning] like I’m three.”
Sharon responded that when Julio had carried Marissa upstairs and put her on the chair that was when she started bleeding from the mouth and nose and that sometime later Julio called 911. During this time Sharon said Marissa was “out of it,” and didn’t know where she was. She also had “bad” marks on her. According to Sharon, she and Julio removed Marissa’s blood-stained shirt, which was photographed later by police, and changed her into another one before they began giving her compressions.
Sharon, who often cried in the recording at the same time as in court, told detectives that Marissa and Julio got along “wonderfully.” Julio was in Marissa’s life for roughly five years.
According to her mother, Marissa was hard to control, though she would later admit that Acadia kept sending her home because they didn’t see the reported behavior. Detectives also discussed Sharon’s own mental health during the interview, with her admitting she was admitted to the psychiatric months before Marissa’s death because she had held a knife to her own throat and threatened suicide.
Sharon recounted that her moods spiraled out of control when she was triggered to remember the sexual abuse she suffered at eight years old.
“I get upset easily, pretty much. Usually, when I hear something that happened when I was eight years old I get upset,” Sharon said on the recording. She told detectives nothing was ever done about what happened to her as a child.
As for Marissa, Sharon said that her daughter was triggered by talk of or talking to her maternal grandparents. She said she and Marissa never triggered each other or were triggered at the same time. She told detectives that Marissa would throw chairs across the room, or hurt herself when having an out of control moment.
Detectives probed Sharon time and again about how she and Julio handled Marissa’s meltdowns, with Sharon admitting only little bits at a time. When one of the detectives said that “back in the day,” when he was a kid and acted up he “got the belt,” prompting Sharon to laugh and say they never did anything physical.
“My husband and I would never do that to our kids,” Sharon said.
The detectives then suggested that if Marissa had ever gotten physical with Sharon she would have to get physical back, prompting Sharon to tell him that Marissa had once punched her in the stomach when she was pregnant with her second youngest child.
Sharon was asked once again what she thought happened to Marissa, and she again said the story about her wanting to watch a movie. The next time she is asked what she thought could have caused Marissa’s injuries, she answered that it was self-harm, saying: “I would never abuse her. I would never abuse any of my kids.”
Eventually, Sharon admitted to detectives that she and Julio would do a “play spank” when Marissa was acting out and that if things continued to escalate they would call crisis services. Marissa was in Acadia Hospital seven to eight times, according to Sharon.
Later in the interview, Sharon said that her father called the morning Marissa died because he’d received another report of police being called to the Stockton Springs residence where the family stayed. The condo is owned by Sharon’s family, who were under threat of being kicked out if police came one more time, she said.
She admitted that she had been “yelling and screaming” the day before, triggered by Julio asking about what happened when she was eight.
When asked to elaborate on what transpired after the call with her father, which Marissa overheard, Sharon said Marissa had gotten very upset.
She said Julio had sat her down in the living room to talk to her and tell her that they could be evicted if she continued yelling. Afterward is when Marissa went to the basement, according to Sharon.
“You think she was so upset she went into the basement and beat herself to death?” one of the detectives asked. He also asked her why, if she could clearly hear the video playing, she could not hear her daughter injuring herself.
Sharon responded that it depended on where you were in the home as to whether or not you could hear, and that she had not heard any suspicious noises, like chairs getting knocked over.
When the interview was redirected to punishments doled out in the Carillo household, Sharon admitted that one of the punishments involving making Marissa kneel in the corner and that sometimes Marissa would say, “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong.”
Sharon denied ever holding Marissa down but admitted that Julio would. She said one of the reasons Marissa would be punished by Julio is if she lied. She gave an example of finding something in her backpack that had been there for a couple of days.
As the interview wrapped up, detectives asked if she had any questions, to which Sharon responded that she just wanted to get to the bottom of this.
They also made Sharon aware that a medical examiner was looking over her daughter and found injuries that did not happen the same day Marissa died, including open wounds to her knees. Sharon said she didn’t know about the injuries and reiterated Marissa would hide things from her and Julio.
When asked if they had ever locked Marissa in a room, Sharon said that they would tell her to go lay down, but never to the upstairs or basement. “She gets scared easily,” she said.
Following the interview, Sharon was given a break while Julio was interviewed, though after only a short time she was brought in to be reinterviewed due to Julio telling a different story.
That interview will be played for the jury at the start of the trial on Tuesday.
Erica Thoms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org