If you are concerned about a child being neglected or abused, call Maine’s 24-hour hotline at 800-452-1999 or 711 to speak with a child protective specialist. Calls may be made anonymously. For more information, visit maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cw/reporting_abuse.
BELFAST, Maine — Growing up, Sharon Carrillo was a sweet, intellectually challenged girl who didn’t speak until she was almost 5 but who always followed the rules. And as a young mother, she never raised a hand or even her voice to her child.
That’s the woman jurors learned about Friday from her father and stepmother.
“She always had a smile on her face. She was calm and quiet,” stepmother Roseann Kennedy said. “That girl didn’t have a mean bone in her body.”
But after Sharon Carrillo met and married Julio Carrillo and moved to Maine with her daughter Marissa Kennedy, they both seemed to become more under his control, Roseann and Joseph Kennedy said during the sixth day of the trial for the murder of Marissa Kennedy.
Defense attorneys Chris MacLean and Laura Shaw are working to make the case that no evidence, other than her own statements, ties Sharon Carrillo to Marissa Kennedy’s abuse and murder. They maintain their client is another victim of Julio Carrillo, who is serving a 55-year sentence for his role in the girl’s death.
Earlier this week, prosecutors painted in graphic detail the crime the defendant is accused of — the torture and death of her daughter.
But on Friday, jurors heard from a steady stream of witnesses that Sharon Carrillo’s attorneys brought to court in an effort to provide context for the crime. What emerged from witnesses was a picture of a family unit in which Julio Carrillo was dominant, controlling and largely secretive. He — as well as Sharon Carrillo and Marissa Kennedy — kept the details of what was really happening inside their home veiled from others, including those who were in a position to help them most.
The first witness called Friday to the stand wasn’t even heard by the jury. It was Julio Carrillo, who invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer the questions asked him by his estranged wife’s attorney. Those included whether he had sent Sharon Carrillo a text message telling her he was going to kill her daughter, whether he sexually assaulted Sharon Carrillo and Marissa Kennedy, and whether he acted alone in killing the 10-year-old girl.
Justice Robert Murray ruled Julio Carrillo was within his rights to not testify in the case, according to News Center Maine.
But after he left, the Kennedys testified emotionally about raising Sharon Carrillo and then later helping to raise their granddaughter Marissa Kennedy, who lived at their house in New York from the time she was born until she was 8 or so, when her mother married Julio Carrillo. They did that in part because Sharon Carrillo, who was diagnosed with broad-based disabilities and who attended special schools for students with learning disabilities, needed the help. When she introduced the Kennedys to her future husband, they were a little concerned because he was almost 20 years older.
“But we thought if he was older, he might take care of her,” Roseann Kennedy said. “She was always taken care of.”
But other witnesses described how that wasn’t the case. Jurors heard from two of Julio Carrillo’s former coworkers at Ocean State Job Lot in Belfast, who said that two months or so before Marissa Kennedy’s death, he told them she already had died, even possessing a piece of paper he said was the girl’s death certificate, according to coworker Maxine Engstrom.
“What was his demeanor?” MacLean asked.
“The same as it ever was,” she replied.
Two men who once lived close to the Carrillos in their former apartment on Main Street in Bangor told the court about the violence they saw and heard from Julio Carrillo there. Randy Poulin said that on the day the family moved in, he saw a little girl carry boxes from the moving truck and drop one. Julio Carrillo smacked her hard on the head — in punishment — and then threw a teddy bear in the dumpster, he said.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be hit that hard,” Poulin said.
He also said he saw Julio Carrillo hit his wife in the face on at least one occasion.
“It seemed like she was always crying,” he said.
Another former neighbor, Ethan Miele, lived in the apartment above the Carrillos and said he would hear “crying, whimpering and skin-on-skin contact” happening downstairs.
“I heard, ‘Daddy, stop! Daddy, please, please stop,” he told the court.
He reported the abuse multiple times to the Bangor Police Department and to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, but nothing really happened, Miele said, and one night he and his roommate went downstairs to confront Julio Carrillo themselves.
“We had gone down there to tell him ‘Stop beating your kids. Stop beating your wife,’” Miele said, adding that Julio Carrillo denied the abuse.
On cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Don Macomber pointed out that when police responded to the reports, Sharon Carrillo would talk to them and make excuses.
“She would say, ‘Oh, no, we were being loud,’” Macomber said.
Jurors heard lengthy testimony from a psychologist who examined Sharon Carrillo after the murder. Dr. Michael O’Connell said that her very low IQ of 70 puts her in the lowest-functioning 2 percent of the population and helped make her susceptible to falsely confessing during police interrogations, a claim that state prosecutors vehemently denied.
“My opinion is, she is vulnerable and was in a coercive situation involving her husband that put her at risk for saying she did something she didn’t do,” he said.