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The mother serving a 48-year prison term for her role in the 2018 beating death of her 10-year-old daughter is asking the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to grant her a new trial.
The intense abuse Marissa Kennedy suffered, which came to light after her death, shook people around Maine and beyond and focused intense scrutiny on the state’s child welfare system. It spurred a series of state investigations into the system as well as efforts to overhaul it.
Attorneys for Sharon Kennedy argue in their appeal to Maine’s highest court that Superior Court Justice Robert Murray should have considered Kennedy a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her former husband, Julio Carrillo, and given more weight to how Kennedy’s low IQ and intellectual disability affected her behavior and allowed for manipulation by her husband.
Chris MacLean and Laura Shaw of Camden, who represented Kennedy at her trial last year, said that Murray should have suppressed Kennedy’s confession to police as involuntary, instructed the jury that she may have been under duress when she participated in the abuse of the girl and that as a victim of domestic violence she could not have acted as an accomplice.
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They also said that her sentence is too harsh. MacLean and Shaw recommended a sentence of 25 years while the prosecution asked that Kennedy be incarcerated for life.
“Lay witnesses including medical providers, Sharon’s family and neighbors testified about Sharon’s fear of Julio and inability to form and express her own thoughts, opinion, or desires in the presence of Julio,” the defense team said in its brief. “The [judge’s] attempt to divorce these facts from the events leading to Marissa’s death reveal a misunderstanding of the nature of domestic violence.”
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin argued in her brief for the prosecution that Murray’s decisions and sentence followed the law and that there was no evidence presented at the trial that Kennedy was a victim of physical abuse as her daughter was.
The justices will hear oral arguments remotely in Kennedy’s case at 10 a.m. Tuesday, her 36th birthday.
Kennedy and Carrillo, 54, were accused of slaying Marissa in February 2018 after months of beatings at the Stockton Springs condominium where the family had been living. Carrillo pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced last year to 55 years in prison. Carrillo’s earliest possible release date is July 28, 2065.
He is in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections but is incarcerated in New Hampshire, according to the department’s prisoner locator website. The department does not release information on why prisoners are held out of state.
Kennedy is being held at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Her earliest release date is July 8, 2059. She went back to using her maiden name in December after having her marriage annulled.
Kennedy’s is one of three murder cases going before the state’s highest court next week. Justices on Wednesday will consider the appeals of John De St. Croix, found guilty of killing two people in Bangor when he set the box truck they were sleeping in on fire, and Anthony Leng, convicted in a domestic violence homicide.
De St. Croix, 27, of Bangor is serving a life sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren in the deaths of Michael Bridges, 43, and Desiree York, 36, both of Bangor on the night of March 28, 2018. The truck, owned by Dunnett appliance store, was located at the Penobscot Plaza shopping center on Washington Street when De St. Croix set it on fire.
A Penobscot County jury found him guilty of murder and arson in March 2019 following a four-day trial. In the appeal, his attorneys argue that Superior Court Justice Ann Murray should not have seated a juror because he had seen social media posts about the fire from employees of Hero’s Restaurant, located in the Penobscot Plaza. The juror knew people who wrote the posts because he had worked at the restaurant’s location at the Bangor Municipal Golf Course.
De St. Croix also maintains that his life sentence is too harsh.
Leng, 43, of Portland is appealing the 40-year sentence he is serving at the Maine State Prison for firing the shots that killed Sokha Khuon, 36, during an argument in January 2018. He pleaded guilty to murder in the death of the woman with whom he shared three children.
Superior Court Justice Andrew Horton sentenced Leng to the maximum number of years allowed in his plea agreement with the Maine Attorney General’s office. Leng’s attorneys are arguing that the judge did not consider sentences in similar domestic violence homicides as required by law.
Because he pleaded guilty, Leng cannot appeal his conviction for murder, but he can appeal his sentence. His earliest release date is July 10, 2052.
It would be exceedingly rare but not unheard of for Maine’s highest court to grant Kennedy or De St. Croix new trials. But in June, the justices granted a new trial to a Massachusetts man serving a 35-year prison sentence for robbing and killing Douglas Morin Jr., 31, of Oakfield four years ago because of flawed jury instructions.
A new trial date for Marcus Asante, 24, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in the case of a marijuana deal gone awry has not been set. He is being held without bail at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton.
There is no timeline under which the justices must issue decisions in the appeals.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled MacLean’s last name.