Maine’s high court has decided that prosecutors shouldn’t be removed from the case of a mother accused in the beating death of her 10-year-old daughter.
Maine Supreme Judicial Court justices issued a decision Tuesday backing Waldo County Superior Court Justice Robert Murray’s ruling that Assistant Attorney Generals Leane Zainea and Donald Macomber should be allowed to continue prosecuting the case.
“We are pleased that the Law Court expeditiously dismissed the defendant’s appeal, which was holding up the State’s prosecution of the murder of Marissa Kennedy,” according to Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who represented the prosecutors in the Law Court. “We look forward to moving ahead with the case.”
Sharon Carrillo and her husband, Julio Carrillo, face murder charges after allegedly beating Sharon’s 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy, on a nearly daily basis for several months until she died from her injuries.
“We respect the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Laura Shaw, one of Sharon Carrillo’s attorneys, said Tuesday afternoon.
The unusual legal spat started in April when Shaw and Christopher MacLean, attorneys representing Sharon Carrillo, tried to have the entire attorney general’s office removed from the case. Prosecutors had sent subpoenas to a New York school for students with learning disabilities and a Walmart where she formerly worked requesting Carrillo’s personal records, including privileged information regarding her mental health.
The out-of-state subpoenas didn’t go through proper court channels, and indicated a school official would have to attend a court hearing in Maine if she didn’t send the records. No such hearing date was ever scheduled.
In March, Waldo County Superior Court Justice Robert Murray ordered the state to turn over or destroy any records it received in response to those subpoenas. Prosecutors handed the paper records over in a sealed envelope and later submitted affidavits detailing who in the attorney general’s office saw the records and to what extent.
A month later, Murray decided prosecutors shouldn’t be removed from the case because they’d sufficiently minimized potential damage caused by the “procedural error.”
Defense attorney Chris MacLean appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. He backed off his calls to have the entire attorney general’s office removed, but still wanted the two lead prosecutors, Zainea and Macomber, to be disqualified.
Maine Law Court justices grilled both sides during a June 12 hearing, asking prosecutors why subpoenas were mishandled and trying to determine whether the state’s errors had actually done any damage to Carrillo’s chances at a fair trial.
The appeal was expedited, and the high court released its opinion three weeks later.
This is just the fifth time the Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard an appeal of a lower court’s ruling on a motion to disqualify attorneys before trial. This is the first time it’s ever happened in a criminal case, and the highest-profile case among those instances. The state called on justices to dismiss the appeal because generally appeals don’t happen before trial unless someone’s right to a fair trial or legal representation are at risk.
“There is no dispute that Carrillo’s case is far from a final judgement,” Justice Ellen Gorman wrote in the high court’s opinion. The court said Carrillo’s attorneys hadn’t proved that irreparable harm would be done to Carrillo’s defense if prosecutors were to continue working on her case.
“We also note that the trial court has already issued an appropriate protective order and required that all documents produced in response to the subpoenas be placed under seal with the court,” Groman wrote.
Carrillo’s case now returns to Waldo County Superior Court, and attorneys will continue their preparation for a trial sometime next year.
Shaw said that even though the high court didn’t side with the defense on the appeal, it was still important to bring attention to the mishandled subpoenas.
“It is likely that our bringing the issue to light will cause the Attorney General’s office and other prosecutors throughout the State to be more careful about seeking these kinds of records in the future,” Shaw said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
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