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BELFAST, Maine — A Waldo County judge on Friday sentenced Sharon Kennedy to 48 years for the murder of her 10-year-old daughter Marissa Kennedy.
Sharon Kennedy, 35, who took back her maiden name after getting her marriage to Julio Carrillo, 52, annulled in December, appeared sad but composed after Justice Robert Murray announced her sentence. Kennedy has been incarcerated since Marissa Kennedy’s February 2018 death at the Stockton Springs condominium where the family had been living.
She was convicted of her daughter’s murder in December after an emotional, often-harrowing, two-week trial.
Her attorney, Laura Shaw, said after the hearing that she will appeal both the verdict and the sentence. Kennedy’s defense team had asked for a 25-year sentence. State prosecutors had asked for life.
“We are certainly disappointed,” Shaw said. “We do feel that the mitigating factors greatly outweighed the aggravating factors.”
Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy of New Windsor, New York, who spoke at the trial supporting his daughter, said that he and other family members are pinning their hopes for the appeal.
But for the moment, the completion of the sentencing hearing seemed to bring a tragic chapter in recent Maine history to a close. Marissa Kennedy’s child abuse death shook people around Maine and beyond and focused intense scrutiny on the state’s child welfare system. It also spurred a series of state investigations and other efforts to protect vulnerable Maine kids.
Julio Carrillo pleaded guilty for his role in the beating death of Marissa Kennedy last year and was sentenced to 55 years in prison.
State prosecutors asked that Sharon Kennedy be sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her daughter — the same recommendation they offered for Julio Carillo — but her defense team asked for a lesser sentence of 25 years.
At the sentencing hearing, Leane Zainea, the assistant attorney general, spoke about the short life and painful death of Marissa Kennedy, detailing the torture the girl had endured at the hands of her mother and stepfather.
“This was always about Marissa, and letting Marissa’s voice be heard,” she said after the hearing was over.
Marissa Kennedy, who loved reading and the color purple, had grown up with her mother and her mother’s parents. When Sharon Kennedy married Julio Carrillo, a Walmart coworker, they moved to Maine with Marissa and began to have other children. There are three surviving children, all of whom live with Julio Carrillo’s parents.
The family lived first in Bangor, where Marissa Kennedy attended Fairmount School and made friends among her classmates. After a year, they moved to the condominium in Stockton Springs that Sharon Kennedy’s parents owned.
In the trial, many people testified that wherever the Carrillo family went, something seemed very wrong. In Bangor, police were often called about fighting in the home and many reports were made to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. In Stockton Springs, the family had a caseworker, who had visited them just days before the girl’s death and noticed she was bruised and very quiet.
In the end, though, no one intervened in the beatings that began in earnest after Thanksgiving 2017 and lasted until Marissa Kennedy’s death a few months later.
On Feb. 25, 2018, Sharon Kennedy and Julio Carrillo called 911 to report that the girl was not breathing. At first, they maintained to police that the girl had somehow fatally injured herself in the basement where she had gone to watch the movie “Despicable Me.” But as first responders examined Marissa Kennedy’s body, they saw bruises and old and new injuries that were inconsistent with the story told by Sharon Kennedy and Julio Carrillo.
It wasn’t long before the couple confessed, telling police they would punish Marissa Kennedy by having her kneel naked on the tile floor in the kitchen and beat her with their hands, a belt and a metal mop so hard that the handle broke. When she died, the autopsy showed her body had between 40 and 50 distinct blunt force injuries, including deep open wounds on her knees, shins and feet, which were infected, broken ribs, and a lacerated liver.
During Sharon Kennedy’s trial, the state’s chief medical examiner testified that no single injury led to the girl’s battered child syndrome death. It was the totality of what she had endured, he said, adding that her heart “finally gave way.”
For prosecutors, the six hours or so of Sharon Kennedy’s audio and videotaped conversations with detectives, which took place shortly after Marissa Kennedy’s death, were all they needed to prove her guilt. Jurors heard and watched those conversations, which included a videotaped tour of the condominium in which Sharon Kennedy demonstrated to detectives how she and Julio Carrillo would punish Marissa Kennedy.
“The defendant admitted she struck her daughter on the head, on the sides of her torso, using a karate chop motion. Using a belt to inflict injuries,” Zainea said during the sentencing hearing. “How could a mother do this to her own child?”
But Sharon Kennedy’s defense team maintained over the weeks of the trial that their client, who has an IQ of 70 and limited mental ability, was also a victim of Julio Carrillo. Chilling home videos played during the trial showed a chaotic, disturbing household where Julio Carrillo was in control.
On Friday, defense attorney Laura Shaw told the court that Sharon Kennedy’s low intellectual functioning and domestic violence relationship was a bad combination. In Maine, away from her support system, she became more and more isolated and withdrawn — and vulnerable to her husband.
“We believe the court must set the basic sentence based on the fact that Sharon Carrillo, while a victim of extreme domestic violence, aided and abetted” Julio Carrillo by not seeking help and telling police a false story, she said.
In her rebuttal to Shaw, Zainea disagreed sharply with the defense’s position.
“Frankly, a sentence of 25 years does more than diminish the gravity of the offense,” she said. “It diminishes Marissa’s life.”
In the end, Murray, who said that another mitigating factor in the sentence is that there is a low likelihood that Sharon Kennedy would commit another crime upon release, went with a sentence that was somewhere in between the two recommendations — although it is likely that Kennedy would be an old woman by the time she is released.
At the hearing, family members described their overwhelming sadness about Marissa Kennedy’s death and Sharon Kennedy’s current reality.
“There are so many what-ifs and if-onlys,” her aunt, Dolores Kennedy, said. “They keep me awake many nights. I pray often for strength and peace in our family.”