BELFAST, Maine — A jury seated late Thursday afternoon could hear testimony from as many as 60 potential witnesses in the murder trial of Sharon Carrillo, the 35-year-old mother who’s accused of helping to beat her 10-year-old daughter to death in 2018.
Those witnesses include law enforcement officers, medical examiners, Carrillo’s family members and Shawna Gatto, the 44-year-old Wiscassett woman who was sentenced to 50 years this summer for the murder of 4-year-old Kendall Chick.
It was not immediately clear why Gatto was on the list of potential material witnesses, although she was convicted on the same charge Carrillo now faces. The high-profile child abuse murders of Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick, which occured only three months apart, prompted a state investigation into Maine’s flawed child welfare system.
Carrillo’s father, Joseph Kennedy, 66, and her stepmother, Roseanne Kennedy, 66, could testify, according to the list. Her father reportedly discovered cellphones at his granddaughter’s family home that allegedly contained graphic images of the abuse she suffered leading up to her death.
Family members of 52-year-old Julio Carrillo, who was sentenced earlier this year to 55 years in prison for his role in his stepdaughter’s death, also could take the stand. It’s unclear if Sharon Carrillo will testify.
The trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday at the Waldo County Judicial Center.
Carrillo is charged with depraved indifference murder for the death of Marissa Kennedy at their Stockton Springs home. Prosecutors believe that Carrillo and her estranged husband beat the girl for months before she died. But Sharon Carrillo’s defense team maintains their client — much like her daughter — was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband.
Finalizing the jury for the high-profile murder trial wasn’t easy in Waldo County, which has a population of about 40,000 people. It took Justice Robert Murray, state prosecutors and Sharon Carrillo’s defense team two days to whittle the 180-person pool of potential jurors to the 11 men and five women who will ultimately decide the accused woman’s fate. Four of those jurors will serve as alternates.
Murray told the jurors to ignore news reports about the case during the trial.
“It’s not your job to try to investigate or research anything that we’ve been talking about,” he said. “In the age of Google, it’s awfully easy to plug in names. Do not do that.”
The process of selecting the jurors was slow and painstaking, and at one point Thursday afternoon, defense attorney Christopher MacLean of Camden said that the chances of succeeding was “touch and go.”
Court attorneys spent Thursday crowding into the jury room at the Waldo Judicial Center. They were joined by court clerks and Carrillo, whose prison uniform was replaced by a tidy black pantsuit. They were there for “voir dire,” the process by which the attorneys and the judge could question potential jurors privately.
One potential juror, who said he had only heard limited radio news coverage of the case, was asked if he would be able to judge it on the evidence alone.
“Yes, for sure,” he replied.
A woman, who said she was self-employed, answered questions about whether missing work during a lengthy trial would cause her financial hardship. It might, she said. Some potential jurors expressed sadness and anger about what happened to Marissa Kennedy. Others talked about how their own life experiences might affect their abilities to be unbiased during the trial.
Completed juror questionnaires were piled on the table in front of the attorneys, who scribbled in notebooks as the members of the jury pool answered their questions. Some potential jurors were excused quickly. Others were there longer, including a man who had experience in education.
“This is a case that’s expected to involve graphic evidence of child abuse,” MacLean said, asking him if his ability to be unbiased would be affected by hearing about a “deceased 10-year-old with gruesome injuries.”
“I don’t think so,” the man replied.
Attorneys were trying to make sure the jurors would not bring preconceived feelings or judgments to the trial, which is standard practice, according to Logan Perkins, a Belfast-based defense attorney who is not involved in the Carrillo case. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do, especially with a high-profile murder in a small, rural county.
“We always want people who haven’t pre-formed ideas about the case,” she said. “We want people who don’t know anyone in the case, and that’s hard, in a small town.”