BELFAST, Maine — Justice Robert Murray ruled on Wednesday that accused child killer Sharon Carrillo is competent to stand trial, which may begin as soon as Friday.
She is charged with depraved indifference murder for the death of her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy in February 2018. Prosecutors believe that Carrillo, 35, and Julio Carrillo, Marissa Kennedy’s stepfather, beat the girl for months at their Stockton Springs home before she died. The murder focused intense scrutiny on the state’s child welfare system.
Julio Carrillo was sentenced to 55 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder earlier this year. Her attorneys have made the case that Sharon Carrillo was also a victim of abuse at the hands of Julio Carrillo and that she has an intellectual disability.
Judge Murray wrote a seven-page decision on Wednesday that a defendant in a criminal case is presumed competent to stand trial and that the burden of proof fell on Carrillo and her defense team to persuade the court that she isn’t.
A defendant is competent if she is able to understand the nature and object of the charges and proceedings against her, Murray wrote, and can cooperate her defense with her defense counsel in a ‘rational and reasonable manner,’ among other points.
Chris MacLean and Laura Shaw, Carrillot’s Camden-based defense attorneys, had a state forensic psychologist evaluate their client’s competency at the end of November. Murray said he gave the report from the psychologist the greatest weight in his decision.
“The defendant has limited intellectual functioning, resulting in her decision-making abilities being generally impaired,” the judge wrote. “However, the defendant’s IQ is not so low as to suggest she is incapable of making informed decisions.”
He said that Carrillo has shown that she understands the nature of the charge against her and an understanding of the pending proceedings.
“She knows that if convicted, she could be sentenced to a term of imprisonment between 25 years and life,” he wrote in his decision. “She also understands the state has the burden of proving that she committed the murder as charged.”
In the evaluation, Carrillo described the evidence that might be used against her, including her statements to police after the murder, the walk-through video of the family’s home and autopsy photos. She said she knew she would have the ability to testify in order to “explain her side,” Murray wrote, and said she knew that in cross-examination, prosecutors would likely ask questions to “try to make me look bad.”
Carrillo told the psychologist she was unsure if she would testify, but that she would do so if it would help her case, the judge wrote. She acknowledged that she was nervous about proceeding to trial, but said she didn’t want to “plea out to something I didn’t do.” She also recognized that she could be found guilty if the case proceeded to trial.
Murray said that he saw no evidence that suggested that Carrillo was having a hard time collaborating with her attorneys.
As well, he said that the evaluation addressed something that the defense team described as a particular area of concern: their client’s limited appreciation of the chances of succeeding at trial. But he believed that the report suggested that Carrillo had come to a clearer understanding of her chances of success during the course of the evaluation, and quoted her saying, “well, I can’t say 50-50 anymore.”
“The mere fact that the defendant has not, at least as of yet, made certain decisions that might comport with a more mathematical or analytical assessment of her risks and benefits does not suggest incompetence,” Murray wrote, adding that a significant majority of criminal defendants have difficulty in making a final decision on issues that are of utmost important to them, such as whether to testify or enter a plea.
Jury selection for her trial began at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast, with an estimated 180 Waldo County residents in the pool.