BELFAST — A judge has sentenced a Stockton Springs man to 55 years in prison for the brutal murder of his 10-year-old stepdaughter.

Julio Carrillo, 52, pleaded guilty last month to killing Marissa Kennedy, who was beaten repeatedly for months before she died from her injuries. Carrillo wept as he spoke in court Wednesday, and his words were unintelligible at times.

Marissa Kennedy

“I am so sorry, I am so sorry, Marissa,” Carrillo said.

He and Sharon Carrillo, his wife and Marissa’s mother, were both charged with depraved indifference murder in the girl’s February 2018 death.

Superior Court Justice Robert Murray heard statements from family members of both husband and wife during an emotional hearing at the Waldo County Judicial Center in Belfast. The courtroom was quiet except for the sound of soft crying as Murray announced the sentence.

He cited police interviews and the autopsy report as he described in graphic detail the prolonged physical abuse Marissa suffered in the final months of her life.

“The evidence supports a finding that there has been and was a formalized and repeatedly ritual torture imposed and inflicted upon this victim, Marissa Kennedy, over an extended period of time, months in duration,” Murray said.

Murray said he considered imposing a life sentence, but he did not in part because Julio Carrillo took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty. Still, he acknowledged the significance of the young girl’s death.

Julio Carrillo puts his head in his hands as he waits to enter the courtroom for his sentencing in Belfast on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“It has been demonstrated in this very courtroom, this very morning,” he said. “The pain and grief felt is palpable.”

During the hearing, four members of Julio Carrillo’s family described him as a man who wanted to help others and became overwhelmed by his circumstances. They said they would continue to support him as he served his sentence, and they talked about raising the couple’s three toddlers in New York.

His mother, Carmen Carrillo, told the judge that her son would bag groceries at the local supermarket as a young boy and give her the tips he earned for the family’s milk and bread. She said he moved to Kentucky for a few years to work for a volunteer organization and rebuilt a local playground. Carmen Carrillo recalled painting Marissa’s nails when her son and Sharon Carrillo married, as well as seeing the young girl happy on the Thanksgiving before she died.

“I stand here before you as a mother with a broken heart, who did not ever expect to see my son where he is today,” she said.

She steadied herself on the wooden railing in front of her as she begged the judge for mercy.

“I have put my son in the hands of two very powerful individuals,” Carmen Carrillo said. “One is my Lord Jesus Christ, and the other is you.”

Joseph Kennedy, Sharon Carrillo’s father, praised the way the Carrillo family is raising the three other children. He said he loved his daughter’s husband like a son, and he recalled Marissa as a child who loved sea animals and visiting the aquarium.

Julio Carrillo walks into the courtroom for his sentencing Wednesday for the murder of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We figured she would become a marine biologist,” he said. “The world has been deprived of the future of this young girl.”

But he also said he repeatedly offered to help the couple with Marissa, and he spoke directly with Julio Carrillo on those occasions because his daughter struggles with low intelligence. But his son-in-law never reached out to the family.

“His life in prison will not nearly be as long as the life that Marissa could have enjoyed,” Joseph Kennedy said.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office sought life in prison, while the defense asked for 35 to 40 years.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea described what the Carrillos did to Marissa as torture. She said Julio Carrillo had a support network he could have called when he struggled with finances and parenting.

“You don’t beat your child on a daily basis – to the point that their heart gave out – in an effort to punish or control,” Zainea said.

Defense attorney Darrick Banda emphasized that Julio Carrillo has taken responsibility for his actions and been open with investigators about how Marissa died.

Justice Robert Murray listens as Julio Carrillo’s family speaks on his behalf in court Wednesday. In sentencing Carrillo to 55 years in prison, Murray said, “The evidence supports a finding that there has been and was a formalized and repeatedly ritual torture imposed and inflicted upon this victim.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Just as a sentence needs to give fair warning to defendants, I think equally important is also sending a message to defendants that if you accept responsibility, the court will take it into consideration,” Banda said.

Both sides referenced the case of Shawna Gatto, who was sentenced in June to 50 years in prison for murdering 4-year-old Kendall Chick. The girl was her fiance’s granddaughter.

The deaths of Marissa and Kendall within just months of each other led to increased scrutiny of Maine’s child protective services. In both cases, warning signs of abuse and 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.

Julio Carrillo waits for Justice Robert Murray to re-enter the courtroom to read him his sentence Wednesday at the Waldo County Judicial Center in Belfast. Murray sentenced Carrillo to 55 years in prison. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Outside the courthouse, the prosecutors said they still consider 55 years to be a life sentence in this case. Asked whether they felt justice had been done for Marissa, they were silent for a moment.

“We have begun the process of holding those accountable for Marisa’s death,” Zainea said.

“Nothing’s going to bring Marissa back, though,” Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said. “I think the ability of the judicial system to bring justice in a case like this is very hard to say, but we do what we can.”

Banda, the defense attorney, told reporters he is pleased with the sentence, even if it is longer than he requested.

“My initial reaction is that this is a win for us,” he said.

Julio Carrillo’s relatives flanked his defense attorney on the steps outside the courthouse. They said they will return to Maine for Sharon Carrillo’s trial, and they asked for privacy in the meantime.

Sharon Carrillo David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

“No one leaves here a winner today,” said Tania Molina, Julio Carrillo’s older sister. “We still lost Marissa. Marissa is not going to come back to life. My brother is not going to go home for many, many years. And the real losers here are his children, his three children, the ones that we take care of on a daily basis.”

The Kennedy family left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

Sharon Carrillo, 34, has claimed in court documents that she and her daughter were both victims of abuse. Prosecutors have said they still plan to take her to trial in December for her alleged role in the girl’s death, but they declined to answer questions about that case Wednesday.

“We are cognizant of the fact that we do need to pick a jury, and our comments should be kept to ourselves,” Zainea said.

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.

Sharon Carrillo submitted a written statement for the judge, and it was impounded because of her upcoming case. Defense attorney Laura Shaw said the judge denied a request for Sharon Carrillo to appear at the sentencing and make her own verbal statement, and the lawyer also was not allowed to address the court Wednesday.

Julio Carrillo looks back at his family as he leaves the courtroom after receiving a 55-year sentence for the murder of his stepdaughter Marissa Kennedy. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Outside the courthouse, Shaw said the written statement communicated Sharon Carrillo’s grief over her daughter’s death.

“The sentiments expressed were really just regarding the pain that Julio caused her, and the fact that she’ll be thinking about her daughter’s death every single day for the rest of her life,” Shaw said.

Julio Carrillo listened to most of the hearing slumped in his chair, not looking at the benches behind him. His shoulders shook when his family spoke, and he often wiped his face with his hands. When he spoke, especially when he spoke directly to Marissa, his voice was tight with emotion.

“I am so, so sorry for not being strong enough to stop what happened to you, what I did to you,” he said. “You will always be in my heart.”

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