BELFAST — A Stockton Springs man has pleaded guilty to murdering his 10-year-old stepdaughter, and prosecutors said Monday they plan to take his wife to trial on the same charge.

Julio Carrillo, 52, changed his plea Monday in a hearing at the Waldo County Judicial Center in Belfast. He did not reach an agreement about prison time with prosecutors, so a judge will sentence him next month. The minimum sentence for murder is 25 years, but the Maine Attorney General’s Office will ask for life in prison.

Given the evidence against him, the chances of success at trial were not high, defense attorney Darrick Banda said after the hearing. “Julio’s best bet at this point is to accept responsibility and try to move forward, and hopefully the court can take that into consideration in setting an appropriate sentence.”’

Julio and Sharon Carrillo were both charged with depraved indifference murder in the death of Marissa Kennedy on Feb. 25, 2018. Sharon Carrillo, 34, has claimed in court documents that she and her daughter were both victims of abuse. But her husband’s lawyer said she has deflected blame.

“When her case goes to trial, you’re going to see that she is equally responsible for what happened,” Banda said.

Marissa Kennedy

Julio Carrillo appeared in a black jail uniform and ankle restraints, and he appeared at times to wipe his eyes as he answered the judge’s questions. Sharon Carrillo was not at the hearing Tuesday, but one of her attorneys was in the audience.

During the brief hearing, Assistant Attorney General Don Macomber described the state’s evidence against Julio Carrillo. He slowly described new and old injuries to the young girl’s body, citing the state medical examiner’s finding that she died as a result of battered child syndrome and multiple health conditions.

“We’re very pleased that Julio Carrillo decided to accept responsibility today,” Macomber said after the hearing. “His conduct was heinous and outrageous, as was his wife Sharon’s conduct. We told Mr. Carrillo’s lawyer from the get-go that we would not engage in any kind of plea negotiation that would in any way hinder our ability to ask for anything other than a life sentence.”

Sharon Carrillo’s lawyers have said they plan to ask the prosecutors to dismiss the charge against her in light of her husband’s guilty plea. Laura Shaw said Monday that her client was “relieved” to hear her husband would plead guilty.

“I think it validates her story and what she has been saying all along about the fact that Julio is really the one who is guilty here,” Shaw said after the hearing.

The prosecutors – Macomber and Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea – did not show any interest in that idea when they spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.

“Her trial is scheduled for December,” Macomber said. “At that time, we’ll introduce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove that she is just as guilty as Julio is.”

It is still unclear whether Julio Carrillo would testify at his wife’s trial, or whether a jury would be allowed to know whether he pleaded guilty to the same charge.

The prosecutors said Monday they do not intend to call him as a witness but could change their minds. His plea did not include an agreement to testify against his wife, and he will be serving his sentence by the time of the trial.

Shaw said the defense team for Sharon Carrillo is considering calling him if the case goes to trial, but has not made a final decision.

Banda said Julio Carrillo is willing to testify. He said his only concern would be whether discussing a graphic photo of Marissa described in court documents would open him to a federal child pornography charge, which might lead him to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself.

“I think Julio would certainly be willing to assist in any way he can,” Banda said. “I don’t know if they’re going to use him, but that’s their call.”

Deirdre Smith, a professor and the director of the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Maine School of Law, said spousal privilege does not apply when one person is charged with committing a crime against the other person’s child.

Smith said it could be risky for either side to call him as a witness – especially the defense.

“He’s already admitted to criminal liability, so in some ways, that’s perfect for the defense,” she said. “They may not want to take the risk of having him actually saying anything that would be potentially trying to shift responsibility back onto Sharon.”

Marissa Kennedy’s death was one of two over the span of several months that led to increased scrutiny of Maine’s child protective services. In both cases, warning signs of abuse or neglect appeared to have been missed or ignored.

A 2018 investigation by the Portland Press Herald found that Department of Health and Human Service caseworkers charged with protecting Maine children from abuse and neglect felt as though they were not being heard when they raised concerns about not having the resources to help children at risk.

Shawna Gatto was sentenced in June to 50 years in prison for murdering 4-year-old Kendall Chick. The girl was her fiance’s granddaughter.

Outside the courthouse, the prosecutors said the girls’ deaths have taken a toll in Maine.

“This is a very traumatic experience for everyone involved, from the first responders who came in and saw Marissa’s condition, right through to us who have to speak to the witnesses and look at the photographs,” Macomber said. “I’ve had nightmares about this case.”

“There are certain images you can never extinguish from your mind,” Zainea added.

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