I looked out at the rain Monday evening and thought of Marissa Kennedy.

Marissa Kennedy

The 10-year-old girl from Stockton Springs has been dead for 17 months, yet her smiling face still haunts all of Maine whenever it appears alongside news coverage of her murder.

Much of the attention since Marissa’s death has focused on the state’s abject failure to protect her, along with Kendall Chick, a 4-year-old murdered around the same time by her grandfather’s fiancé. As chronicled in a 2018 Portland Press Herald investigation, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services bears at least some of the responsibility in both cases for not giving children in peril the priority they so clearly deserve.

Now, with Marissa’s stepfather pleading guilty on Monday to her murder, we move to an even more vexing phase of this tragedy: We go inside the home, take a hard look at two adults – Julio and Sharon Carrillo, Marissa’s stepfather and mother – and attempt to assign proportionate blame.

Enter the lawyers.

“When (Sharon Carrillo’s) case goes to trial, you’re going to see that she is equally responsible for what happened,” Darrick Banda, Julio Carrillo’s attorney, told the assembled media Monday outside the Waldo County Judicial Center in Belfast.

Countered Laura Shaw, Sharon Carrillo’s attorney, “I think (Julio’s guilty plea) validates (Sharon’s) story and what she has been saying all along about the fact that Julio is really the one who is guilty here.”

Let’s be clear. Those accused of even the most heinous crimes – and this one certainly qualifies – are entitled to competent legal representation.

That includes presenting one’s client to the court in the best possible light. It also obligates the attorney to argue for the best possible outcome – be it 50 years (versus life) in prison for Julio, as suggested by Banda, or dismissal of the murder charge against Sharon, which Shaw now plans to seek.

Still, there’s something unseemly about this whole dance: Two grown adults, either of whom could have saved Marissa’s life in a heartbeat, now pointing the finger at each other through their attorneys.

And those attorneys now taking that case not only to the court but to the public via impromptu news conferences on the courthouse steps because … why?

Sure, the journalists all crowd around and fire off their questions. And yes, dueling lawyers makes for good TV in the heat of a highly charged court case.

But the more we focus, outside the courtroom, on who did what and why, the more we lose sight of the one person who doesn’t get to weigh in on any of this.

What, we can only wonder, did little Marissa think about the two people most responsible for her well-being?

What was her take on an outside world that essentially ignored her plight until it was too late?

What, if only she had a vote, would her verdicts be?

Both the Carrillos are charged with depraved indifference murder. Under Maine law, that means engaging “in conduct that manifests a depraved indifference to the value of human life and that in fact causes the death of another human being.”

In other words, murder doesn’t have to be a single act – say, a gunshot or fatal blow with a deadly weapon. It can occur over a long period of time, a cascade of injuries that steadily drain the life out of someone until finally, and inevitably, they’re gone.

Clearly, that’s what happened to Marissa.

Various documents and court proceedings have revealed that her injuries occurred not over days and weeks, but months. She was whipped with a belt, beaten with a metal mop handle until it broke, forced to kneel with her arms in the air until the skin on her knees was chafed to the bone.

And her parents? What say they now?

According to news reports, Julio Carrillo appeared to wipe his eyes several times during Monday’s hearing. Real grief or crocodile tears, it doesn’t matter – his repeated attacks on a defenseless child warrant only our condemnation.

Sharon Carrillo, assuming her case still goes to trial in December, will likely base her defense on the fact that she is developmentally disabled and that she lived in constant fear of her husband, who she says abused her as well.

For starters, none of that negates statements Sharon made to police shortly after Marissa’s death that she and her husband were equally responsible for the child’s injuries.

It also flies in the face of basic human instinct: What kind of mother, under any circumstances, allows her own daughter to be beaten slowly to death right before her eyes – much less takes part, by her own admission, in the beatings?

Banda, Julio’s attorney, told the media outside the courthouse that the guilty plea “is Julio trying to take … a positive step forward in the face of this tragedy.”

Sorry, counselor. There is nothing remotely positive about your client admitting the obvious. He is, and always will be, a child killer.

Nor is there anything uplifting about the legal spitballing now under way when it comes to Sharon’s trial:

Will Julio take the stand?

And if so, which side will call him?

And upon being sworn in, will he invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when it comes to a graphic photo of Marissa that could lead to a federal pornography charge?

It all can’t end soon enough.

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, the one lawyer who actually said something worth hearing on the steps of the courthouse Monday, put things in their proper perspective when he told Press Herald Staff Writer Megan Gray that this has been a “traumatic experience” for everyone involved – from the first responders who found a little girl’s lifeless body on that cold February day to the prosecutors now seeking justice in her name.

“I’ve had nightmares about this case,” Macomber said.

As should we all.

 


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