BELFAST, Maine — A Waldo County judge on Wednesday sentenced 52-year-old Julio Carrillo to 55 years in prison and $6,100 in restitution for the violent beating death of his 10-year-old stepdaughter.
State prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Carrillo to life in prison for the murder of Marissa Kennedy, describing the young girl’s death as torture that deeply affected the wider community.
But Carrillo’s attorney argued for a more lenient 35- to 40-year prison sentence, telling the court that his client had admitted responsibility, pleaded guilty and waived his right to a trial.
Justice Robert Murray said he found a life sentence appropriate, but mitigating factors contributed to his decision.
Carrillo, who pleaded guilty last month to depraved indifference murder, cast his eyes down during much of the sentencing hearing, but he did stand up to address the court briefly. In a voice that was shaky and nearly inaudible at times, Carrillo said that he had gotten overwhelmed by financial and other troubles at the time of the murder and everything was “just too much to handle.”
“I have agonized, every day and every night,” he said. “I hope someday Jesus Christ and Marissa will forgive me … Marissa, I am so, so sorry.”
Carrillo and his wife, Sharon Carillo, 34, the mother of the slain girl, were charged with murder following Marissa Kennedy’s February 2018 death at their home in Stockton Springs.
The child suffered months of physical abuse leading up to her death. Because the state’s Department of Health and Human Services had received multiple reports alleging that the 10-year-old was being abused, Kennedy’s death focused intense scrutiny on Maine’s child welfare system.
During the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea used strong words to describe the abuse. She said that Marissa Kennedy was “systematically tortured” for months before her heart gave out from the nonstop beatings. Her autopsy showed she had a lacerated liver, abundant bruising, infected sores on both knees from being made to kneel naked on tile for beatings and stress-related hair loss, among other problems, Zainea said.
“Words cannot describe the abuse inflicted on Marissa,” she said, describing the case as “so outrageous, so revolting, so savage, so brutal and so shocking” that it is hard to come up with a just sentence.
Zainea said the case is different from that of Shawna Gatto, who was found guilty earlier this year of killing 4-year-old Kendall Chick, a crime that happened just three months before Marissa Kennedy’s murder. Gatto was sentenced in June to 50 years in prison, with the judge saying at her sentencing that she seemed to show the telltale signs of a person who was overwhelmed by childcare responsibilities and did not receive much help.
“The same cannot be said of Marissa’s death,” Zainea told the court.
But Carrillo’s attorney, Darrick X. Banda, argued differently, saying the case was very similar to Gatto’s. The Carrillos and their children had moved away from their extended families in New York state to Maine, where the couple had spent their honeymoon, in search of a fresh start. But they were dogged by problems, eventually moving from Bangor to the Stockton Springs condominium that belonged to Sharon Carrillo’s family.
“This family struggled with finances, struggled with finding work,” Banda said, painting a picture of a troubled family living in isolation. “They had no one to rely on except themselves.”
‘Not a monster’
Although the courtroom at the Waldo Judicial Center was full of people on Wednesday, including Carrillo’s family members, his estranged wife Sharon Carrillo was not there. She is expected to stand trial in December for her role in the child’s death.
The judge did not allow Sharon Carrillo’s attorney, Laura Shaw, to read a statement on behalf of her client.
Julio Carrillo’s mother, father, sister and other relatives did address the court, pleading for leniency. His parents have adopted the Carrillo’s three surviving children, the youngest of whom was born when Sharon Carrillo was in jail. They told the judge that the man they know is a loving son, father and brother, who did something that was deeply out of character when he hurt his stepdaughter.
His father, Julio Carrillo Sr., was emotional when he took his turn at the microphone.
“They’re depicting my son as a monster. He’s not a monster. He’s a good man,” Carrillo Sr. said. “Something happened … everybody goes through hard times. Please have mercy on him.”
Those words were echoed by others in the family, who expressed their love for both Carrillo and his victim. They said they knew the family had been struggling when they moved to Maine but had no idea things had taken such a dark turn.
Carmen Carrillo, the defendant’s mother, said that she noticed nothing out of the ordinary when her son’s family came to New York for Thanksgiving in 2017, three months before Kennedy was killed.
“We went shopping. Got our nails done. She was happy as always,” Carmen Carrillo said. “No marks on her legs. No bruises on her arms. Your honor, if I had seen anything, I swear to you, I would have been the first to take action.”
‘World’s been deprived of the future’
Not everyone asked for leniency. Zainea rejected the argument that Carrillo was overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting three children and not having a steady income. Parenting is the hardest job, she said, and there will be obstacles, but that does not explain what happened to Marissa Kennedy. She also pointed out that Carrillo clearly had abundant family support, even if they were located in New York and not Maine, and said that the beatings appeared to start in force after that Thanksgiving.
“You don’t beat your child on a daily basis until their heart goes out,” she said. “If things were so overwhelming that Marissa was subjected to daily beatings, you pick up that phone. You make a call.”
Joseph Kennedy, Sharon Carrillo’s father, also gave his thoughts about his son-in-law’s sentence. He described Marissa Kennedy as a lovable girl who enjoyed visiting the aquarium and who they figured might one day be a marine biologist. He said that his son had offered to take Marissa Kennedy to live with his family during the school year, but Julio Carrillo did not jump at the offer.
“Now I’ve got a dead grandchild who I dearly miss,” he said, asking for a life sentence. “The world’s been deprived of the future of this young lady.”
Ultimately, when determining Carrillo’s sentence, Murray said that he found there were enough mitigating factors — including his family support, lack of a prior criminal sentence and acceptance of responsibility — to adjust the life sentence downward to 55 years. Aggravating factors he considered included the “extreme brutality” of the murder, which he called a domestic violence homicide and the fact that Marissa Kennedy was only 10 years old. He said that the court has heard compelling evidence from the girl’s grandparents, aunts and uncles about what her death has meant to them.
“The profound impact that the loss of this child will have on all their lives,” Murray said. “The pain and grief has been palpable.”