BELFAST — The trial of Sharon Carrillo officially began in Waldo County Superior Court Dec. 6, with the 12 jurors and two alternates seated just yesterday.
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.
Sharon's then-husband Julio Carrillo pleaded guilty to depraved indifference murder in July and was sentenced to 55 years in prison. Sharon is facing the same charge.
Before the state or defense attorneys were allowed to speak, Justice Robert Murray spoke with jurors, instructing the five women and nine men selected that neither opening nor closing statements are evidence.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber was the first to make his opening statement, beginning with a brief reminder of the child who had brought the room together.
“Marissa Kennedy was just 10 years old when she was killed. Marissa Kennedy was just four foot nine inches and weighed 76 pounds when she was killed,” Macomber said.
Macomber told jurors that Marissa spent most of the fall of 2017 in Acadia Hospital and Sweetser at the Sweetser Community Health Center in Belfast, “because her parents said she had behavioral problems.”
Marissa was discharged to her family shortly before Thanksgiving 2017. For the holiday, the Carrillo family, including Julio, Sharon, Marissa Kennedy, and the two small children Julio and Sharon had together, traveled to New York to visit Julio’s family.
After the family returned home from the trip, Marissa Kennedy remained with her family in the Stockton Springs condo they shared. Macomber said she stayed in the house from December 2017 through Feb. 25, 2018, the day Marissa was found dead. It was Julio Carrillo who dialed 911, reporting that Marissa was unresponsive and that they were performing CPR on her. When the first responders arrived at the scene just minutes later, they found Marissa on the floor under a blanket in the bedroom.
“You’re going to see photos of what first responders saw when they entered that bedroom. My words can’t describe for you what they saw, but those photos are going to speak volumes for you. Marissa had a large bruise on her face and her abdomen was swollen and purple, and she was cold to the touch,” Macomber said.
In addition to going over the basic information from the day of and the days following Marissa’s death, Macomber also advised jurors that defense attorney Christopher MacLean was probably going to talk about domestic violence, and to keep in mind during the trial whether there is any evidence in support of that claim.
Sharon wept audibly through most of AAG Donald Macomber's opening statement, hanging her head and wiping away tears as Macomber detailed the horrific abuse Marissa endured during the final months of her life.
According to Macomber, after initially interviewing she and Julio, detectives came to her to conduct a second interview.
“During that interview, Sharon Carrillo confessed that she and her husband Julio Carrillo had beaten Marissa Kennedy to death. She said that she and Julio would punish Marissa for being disrespectful. Sharon said they did this a couple of times a day, every day, for months. Sharon said they would make Marissa kneel on the tile floor. Sharon said they would whip Marissa with a belt. Sharon said they would strike Marissa in the face and in the sides with their fists and with karate chops. Sharon said that Julio would kick Marissa in her sides. Sharon said that Julio beat Marissa with a metal mop handle. Sharon said that she would lock Marissa in a closet for hours.
“Sharon said their punishments got out of hand. Sharon said that at the end, Marissa couldn’t walk and her speech was slurred, but Sharon, Marissa’s own mother, thought Marissa was faking so she beat her again. Sharon said she knew that Marissa needed to go to the hospital, but they didn’t take her, because she was afraid that they would get in trouble. Sharon said that she and Julio came up with the story about Marissa injuring herself in the basement because she was afraid they would get in trouble.”
Following that interview, Sharon and Julio were taken back to the Stockton Springs residence to take police on a walk-through of what occurred the day Marissa died.
Macomber also talked about what the Chief Medical Examiner found when he examined Marissa’s body.
“He’s going to tell you that what Sharon Carrillo was reporting what happened to Marissa, was not consistent with what he was seeing in the autopsy. Instead, he will tell you that in his opinion, Marissa Kennedy was the victim of battered child syndrome. Again, you’re going to see the photos of what Dr. Flomenbaum saw during the autopsy.
“Marissa had multiple old and new contusions to her head, with brain bleeding and swelling, Marissa had multiple old and new blunt impact injuries to her torso. She had old rib fractures. A lacerated liver. Patterened imprints from strikes with a hand or foot. Patterned imprints from a belt buckle. Marissa had multiple old and new injuries to her arms, to her legs, to her feet. She had open, [purulent] sores on her knees and on the tops of her feet. Marissa had an infection throughout her body.
“Dr. Flomenbaum is going to tell you that Marissa had the tell-tale signs of being subjected to chronic stress and trauma. She had hair loss. Her immune was compromised by constantly being flooded with adrenaline. She had evidence that the cells in her heart had died, likely resulting in heart failure. In short ladies and gentlemen, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy was beaten to death over a period of months.
“Who beat Marissa Kennedy to death? Who was responsible for her murder?
“Her mother, Sharon Carillo,” Macomber said, prompting Sharon to sob into her hands.
When Attorney Chris MacLean, who along with fellow Attorney Laura Shaw represents Sharon, rose to address the jury he rhetorically asked them, "who killed Marissa?"
“I have the privilege of representing Sharon Carrillo in this trial today, MacLean told jurors at the start of his opening statements providing a bulleted outline of his talking points.
After taking time to thank the jury for their service, MacLean said: “The reason you’re all here is that out of all the people we brought in back on Wednesday, it was you who were able to tell us clearly that you could be fair and [im]partial, that you could put aside your emotions and only focus on the evidence being fair.
MacLean said it can be hard to get a fair trial in cases with facts like this.
“The opening you heard earlier from Don Macomber [sic] should have elicited feelings of sadness, anger, maybe frustration, maybe even feelings of vengeance, because that’s human. When you take an oath to be jurors in this courtroom, you’re not asked to put away the fact that you’re human beings. You should take with you through the trial your humanness, your humanity. You may feel feelings of sadness, you may feel like you want to cry at some point when you listen to this evidence. This evidence is the most sad [sic] evidence that anyone could ever hear in a courtroom in the State of Maine. The circumstances under which Marissa Kennedy died are gruesome, they’re outrageous. They depict photos of torture and child abuse and there is no question that Marissa died an absolutely terrible, horrible death. As you listen to this evidence, it’s ok to feel those emotions because we’re human beings.”
Jurors were told it wasn’t problematic to have such emotions, they only require you to not to be motivated by anger and vengeance when the evidence is evaluated.
Attorney MacLean reinforced with jurors that it’s important to listen to all of the evidence before making a decision.
“So what is this trial really about? It’s really pretty simple. Putting aside all the legal theories that Mr. Macomber just described to you, putting aside the burdens of proof, you’re really with us to tell us one thing: Who killed Marissa?”
MacLean said that it is known that Julio Carrillo pleaded guilty to murder, which he was sentenced to 55 years in prison for in July.
“The only thing you’re really with us to decide is whether Sharon Carrillo is also responsible for killing Marissa, and I’ll tell you right now that the evidence will show that Julio Carrillo killed Marissa Kennedy, and he acted alone in doing that and that Sharon Carrillo did not participate in any of the beatings or torture of her daughter, as the State just described to you,” MacLean said.
The defense must wait for the State to make its case against Carrillo, including evidence and witnesses before they are allowed to begin their case for why Sharon is not guilty, during which time, MacLean said there would be a lot of evidence presented that would not be favorable to Sharon.
“The State is not going to present evidence that is favorable to Sharon.... but even as the State presents its evidence, let me suggest to you that you’re going to see signs of what this case really is about and Don Macomber alluded to it in his opening. He mentioned domestic violence and the beatings that Julio Carrillo was actually inflicting on Sharon..... We suspect you’ll start to see signs of what was really happening in the Carillo home, and it’s from those signs that I am going to ask you at the end to connect the dots.... All of the pieces of evidence you’re going to hear are like meaningless dots at first, on a piece of paper, you’re going to be picking up on things.”
MacLean said after the jury has heard all the witness testimony, seen the videos and images he will ask them to connect the dots about what really happened in this case, “and that picture that’s going to emerge is nothing like the picture that the State just described to you in its opening.”
“It’s often said that you can never really know what’s going on behind closed doors in any American home anywhere in the country. Every family has its secrets, sometimes those secrets are ugly secrets, sometimes they’re terrible secrets that the family doesn’t want anyone else to know about. The Carrillo family is no different in that respect. What is different is that we have a lot of information about all this actually happening in the Carrillo household.”
A short break was taken following opening arguments, with the first witness called after the 15 minutes break.
Six witnesses were called during the trial’s first day, including Vern Thompson, who is the Chief of the Stockton Springs Fire Department and also works with the town’s ambulance service.
Thompson was the first person to arrive at the scene following Julio Carrillo’s 911 call and described what he found at the residence when he entered. He planned to try to resuscitate the girl, who was laying on the floor of a bedroom, not yet covered by a sheet. According to Thompson, Sharon Carrillo was seated on a large bed in the room crying, while Marissa’s body lay beside a single bed.
Jurors were shown photographs of the entire house over the course of the day.
According to Thompson he went to Marissa and began to attempt CPR and mouth to mouth resuscitation, only to find that Marissa’s body would not take a breath and that her eyes were fixed. Marissa, who Thompson noticed had large bruising on her stomach, was without a pulse.
Thompson also mentioned seeing a brown stain near a chair, something mentioned by the two members of law enforcement that testified later in the day. It is also clearly shown in photos of the scene shown to the jury, reporters, and three citizens that attended the trial’s opening day.
Pictures of the stains were shown, along with the furniture and set up of the house, which appeared tidy. The home featured a main floor, upstairs, and finished basement, all shown to jurors. The first floor of the home had a nearly empty living area, save two camp-style chairs and two high chairs, while the first-floor bedroom contained a queen-sized bed and a smaller bed, along with two cribs, on the opposing wall of the bedroom. It was this room that Marissa was located in by first responders.
Though the bloody pictures gave additional weight to the room, harder photos were yet to come.
Later in the day photos of Marissa’s body were shown, with her body laying in colorful pajamas. In the photo, her shirt is raised to show an inch or two of her stomach, with all of the skin between her shirt and pants swollen and with deep purple bruising. Her face, which Thompson described as being whitish-gray in person, was also bruised, with a purple patch roughly the size of a playing card sitting above her right brow.
Sharon Carrillo wept as jurors were shown pictures of Marissa and her wounds.
A second member of the Stockton Springs ambulance service took the stand and said that she had asked Sharon what had happened to Marissa. Sharon allegedly told the witness that Marissa had been in the basement watching movies and Julio went to check on her and she had fallen. When the witness asked if they had done CPR on Marissa, they said they had. When asked whether Marissa had been sick, Sharon reportedly stated that Marissa hurt herself, had ADD and autism, and had been in Sweetser and Acadia.
The witness said Julio never came into the bedroom while she was talking with Sharon, who was still crying when the woman left the room.
Waldo County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Corporal Darren Moody was the third witness to be called in the case; he was the first member of law enforcement to arrive at the scene after being called in early for his usual four p.m. shift. Moody, who lives in the area, said he arrived at the scene at 3:15 p.m.
When Cpl. Moody entered the home he spoke first with Julio, who was caring for the other two children in the home, before going into the bedroom where Sharon was and where Marissa’s body was covered by a blanket, save for part of one stocking foot sticking out the side. Moody said he was advised that the child has passed and asked Sharon what happened, prompting her to retell the story about Marissa falling in the basement. Sharon also told Moody that Marissa was known for harming herself.
While in the residence, Moody eventually guarded the bedroom door until Maine State Police could arrive.
Moody was asked a number of questions about domestic violence, largely focusing on a victim’s ability to communicate what had happened to them. Prosecutors focused on the fact that in his 15 years in law enforcement there have been victims of domestic violence who have been able to tell law enforcement about the abuse they suffer(ed). Defense attorney Laura Shaw then asked whether it was uncommon for victims of abuse not to come forward, or to later retract statements, or even to say things in an effort to protect the very partner abusing them. Moody agreed these were also not uncommon reactions for victims of domestic violence.
Maine State Police Trooper Hugh Landry was called next and was asked to go through pictures of the residence, Marissa’s body, and multiple bloody areas in the home. During his testimony, Landry said that the brown spots, which were marked by yellow evidence placards, had ultimately tested positive for blood. He stated that law enforcement documents such stains as red-brown until they can conclusively be determined to be blood. A large puddle of dried blood was found in the upstairs living area, between the two chairs. A shirt stained red-brown was also found near the chairs.
Blood was found at the base of the home’s second-floor staircase in eight places, it was also found on the upstairs living room floor, laundry room, and near a bathroom light switch. There were blood drops also near the kitchen sink, and a sponge with the scrubber completely worn was also located.
He described how troopers sprayed luminol, a chemical that glows when sprayed on blood, on all the red-brown stains shown in the images. The images afterward showed the red-brown stains glowing blue, revealing the stains were in fact blood.
Photos of two belts with metal buckles were also shown, with one hanging in a closet and the other on the closet’s floor.
Larry Clement, the principal at Searsport Elementary, where Marissa was a fifth-grade student prior to her death, was the next witness called. Marissa attended during the 2017-2018 school year, which Clement said is organized into three trimesters. He said that Marissa missed 37 days of her first trimester and an additional 12 before Jan. 1, 2018. Clement said a letter was sent to Julio and Sharon inquiring about Marissa's absences. He told jurors he never saw Marissa again after sending the letter Jan. 3, 2018.
Though Julio had warned Clement that Marissa was violent in the home, he said while at school she was not violent or disruptive, instead she was described as a quiet, polite child who liked to read.
The next witness of the day was Marissa’s fifth-grade teacher Katherine Legere, with whom Marissa spent the entirety of her school days. Legere described Marissa as quiet, polite, and someone who got along with her peers. Marissa had even joined a school group called the Librarian’s Book Club.
The last witness of the day, who appeared via video after being deposed, was June Baird, who works as a special education teacher and home provider with Child Services Development of Rockland. Baird works in a program focused on children from birth to three years and visited the Carrillo home to talk about the Julio and Sharon’s young children, aged one and two at the time.
Marissa was present during the February 2018 visit, and Baird testified that when they all went to the finished basement to complete the interview process, Marissa sat on a couch placed away from other furniture and directly behind another love seat. Baird said at one point she asked Marissa to come to look at something as a way to involve her, she said Marissa took a few steps off the couch, but quickly returned after Julio and Sharon Carrillo turned to look at her.
Baird, who appeared near tears throughout her testimony, said that both Marissa and Sharon had extremely dry lips and sunken eyes, though she noted that Sharon became very animated when discussing her youngest child. Baird said she thought perhaps Marissa was medicated, and Julio stated multiple times that Sharon had extreme mental issues, and that Marissa had been in and out of Acadia.
Baird also recalled Marissa was walking with a hunch, was very unsteady, and was very contained during her time at the home, saying she sat the entire time in one spot with her hands folded in her lap. During the hour that Baird and her team were at the residence, she said she never saw Julio or Sharon interact with her. As she was exiting the home, she noticed Marissa had a bruise on her left temple.
Five days after the visit, Marissa was dead.
The trial of Sharon Carrillo will continue in Waldo County Superior Court Dec. 9 at 9 a.m.
Erica Thoms can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org