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 — Months before Marissa Kennedy was killed at her home in Stockton Springs in February 2018, her stepfather, Julio Carrillo, allegedly told his co-workers at Tozier’s Family Market in Searsport that the girl had died — even using that as an excuse to miss work on occasion.
It was the same lie he told coworkers at Ocean State Job Lot in Belfast later, according to testimony heard during the trial. At Toziers, his co-workers responded to Julio Carrillo’s sad news by gathering food for the family and purchasing items to help them out, his former manager Lori Brassbridge testified Monday morning at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast.
“We were all sympathetic to him,” Brassbridge said. “We were kind of grieving with him grieving his child.”
But, at that time, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy was still alive.
Brassbridge was among the first witnesses this week to take the stand in the trial of Kennedy’s mother, Sharon Carrillo, who is charged with murder in the child abuse death of the girl.
Julio Carrillo pleaded guilty earlier this year and is serving a 55-year sentence for killing his stepdaughter. But Justice Robert Murray told the jury that his plea does not necessarily exonerate Sharon Carrillo, who’s trying to prove to jurors that she was not criminally responsible for her daughter’s death. Her attorneys are working to show the jury that she was so scared of her husband, and so vulnerable because of her intellectual disabilities that she also was one of his victims.
Other witnesses called Monday morning included a Bangor police officer who allegedly responded to a report that Kennedy had run away from the family’s apartment when they were living in that city, and a janitor of the Bangor apartment building where the Carrillos lived who said she heard such disturbing behavior from the family that she called both the police and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Another man who lived in the same apartment building testified on Monday that he heard Julio Carrillo hollering so loudly at his wife the noise traveled through the building’s pipes.
“[Julio Carrillo] said ‘I’m going to cut you into little pieces and send you to the hospital,’” Daniel Whitney recalled, adding that he also heard Julio Carrillo tell his wife that she was an unfit mother and he was going to turn her into the state.
A month or so after Sharon Carrillo had given birth to her third child, the witness said Julio Carrillo told her she was so fat that no man would want her.
“There were so many damn incidents,” he said.
The social worker who interacted with Kennedy when she spent a month at Sweetser — a behavioral school for children in Belfast — during the autumn before her death, described the girl as kind and creative. When Danielle MacLeod met with Kennedy’s parents after the girl was admitted to the crisis stabilization unit in October 2017, Julio Carrillo did most of the talking, she told the jury. He described Kennedy as being “oppositional defiant, aggressive,” and had terrible tantrums and suicidal thoughts. That wasn’t the girl that MacLeod saw, however.
“She was just a sweet, sweet little girl,” MacLeod said.
The last witness to testify Monday morning was Dr. Amy Barrett, Marissa Kennedy’s pediatrician at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. She saw Kennedy five times between October 2016 and July 2017, and Julio Carrillo was always present during those visits, Barrett said. Her mother was too — except for one time. The stepfather dominated conversations in her office, telling the doctor about Kennedy’s purported behavioral problems and how they were negatively affecting the family.
“Initially [Julio Carrillo] reported that Sharon was afraid of Marissa,” Barrett said. “[And said that] she was difficult to control and they felt that she wasn’t safe … for the younger children and themselves. That they could not control her enough for everyone in the home to be safe.”
But the pediatrician said she had concerns about the family and called the Maine Department of Health and Human Services a number of times to share them.
“Initially, the concerns were of medical neglect — that she was having behavioral difficulties at home, but no in-home services were ever established or agreed to,” Barrett said, adding that her suspicions about the family grew over time.
The doctor testified that Kennedy’s teachers in Bangor had said the girl was falling asleep in class, and when a school nurse approached the Carrillos about it, they explained by saying that Kennedy was on four medications which were making her tired. As well, they explained some of her chronic absenteeism by saying that the girl was either in the hospital or in the pediatrician’s office for a visit.
“None of that was the case,” Barrett said. “There was dishonesty and manipulation of various people inside the medical, protective and school systems.”
The doctor read from hospital emergency reports about Kennedy, sharing details with the court about what Julio Carrillo was telling medical professionals about the girl. Over the months, he said that Kennedy had punched her pregnant mother, that she was sleepwalking with a knife, that she was hurting her much younger brother, that she had chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder and that she was out-of-control four or five times a day. He said that the reason Kennedy was so troubled was because of “abuse from grandparents,” Barrett read.
One medical professional wrote that he or she had taken Kennedy to a different room to play a game, and when they returned, Julio Carrillo was livid that the girl had “talked behind our backs,” Barrett said.
But even as the defense continued to build the case that Julio Carrillo was controlling and abusive to his family, prosecutors worked to drive home the point that at every turn, Sharon Carrillo never disclosed what was actually happening in the home. She could have told anyone — the policeman, the social worker, neighbors, doctors, co-workers and others, prosecutors suggested, but she didn’t.
“Although Julio might have done a lot of the talking, Sharon Carrillo never told you what was going on in the home, did she?” Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea asked MacLeod, the social worker. “She never told you about violence in the home, did she?”
“No,” MacLeod responded.