BELFAST — A judge ruled Wednesday that Sharon Carrillo is mentally competent to stand trial on a murder charge in the death of her 10-year-old daughter, clearing the way for jury selection in the high-profile child abuse case.

Marissa Kennedy

Carrillo’s attorneys had requested that the judge, Maine Superior Court Justice Robert Murray, review a recent forensic psychological evaluation of the defendant to gauge her competency. Murray ruled that while Carrillo, 34, has “limited intellectual functioning” that could impair her decision-making abilities, “the defendant’s IQ is not so low as to suggest she is incapable of making informed decisions.”

Murray then spent the rest of Wednesday working with state prosecutors and Carrillo’s defense team reviewing the lengthy juror questionnaires and interviewing potential jurors, with the goal of beginning the trial Friday.

“We are ready to go,” said Christopher MacLean, one of Carrillo’s two attorneys. “We have been preparing for a long time at this point, and both sides have their witnesses lined up and the fault lines are pretty clear at this point. We are ready to get going, so we are hoping to seat a jury.”

Carrillo is charged with depraved indifference murder in the February 2018 death of her daughter, Marissa Kennedy, in Stockton Springs. Prosecutors allege that Carrillo and her husband, Julio Carrillo, severely beat the 10-year-old girl for months before she died of what the state medical examiner determined was “battered child syndrome” caused by repeated internal and external injuries.

The death of Kennedy and another young girl, 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset, within months of each other prompted scrutiny of Maine’s child protective services. Both children had been in the child welfare system, and former neighbors as well as school officials said they reported suspicions that Kennedy was being abused.

Subsequent investigations by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and the media identified systemic flaws as well as specific failures related to the two girls. DHHS has since been adding staff at Child Protective Services and in other child welfare programs.

Sharon Carrillo David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Shawna Gatto of Wiscasset was found guilty in June of murdering Chick – who was the granddaughter of Gatto’s fiancee – following a non-jury bench trial and was later sentenced to 50 years in prison. Julio Carrillo was sentenced to 55 years in prison in August after pleading guilty to murdering Kennedy, who was his stepdaughter.

His guilty plea meant his case never went to a jury. Potential jurors in Sharon Carrillo’s upcoming trial were warned in the questionnaire that the case is expected to involve graphic evidence, including photos of the deceased victim’s injuries.

Sharon Carrillo’s attorneys have portrayed both the mother and daughter as victims of Julio Carrillo’s repeated physical and sexual abuse, and the defense is expected to frame many of its arguments around those allegations of domestic violence.

If convicted, Sharon Carrillo faces 25 years to life in prison.

In his ruling on the competency issue, Murray wrote that there must be a “preponderance of the evidence” to find a person incompetent to stand trial. Murray said that Carrillo has demonstrated that she understands the nature of the charges against her, the court proceedings and the evidence likely to be presented against her.

Carrillo showed in her psychological evaluation that she understood her chances of success at trial as opposed to the potential of a lesser sentence if she pleaded guilty to the charges, Murray wrote.

“The mere fact that the defendant has not, at least as of yet, made certain decisions that might comport with a more mathematical or analytical assessment of her risks and benefits does not suggest incompetence,” Murray said. “The difficulty or hesitancy in making a final decision on issues of the utmost consequences (eg, whether to testify or whether to enter a plea) is common to a significant majority of criminal defendants, regardless of their level of competency.”

MacLean, one of Carrillo’s defense attorneys, said he was not surprised by the ruling but noted that Murray did acknowledge Carrillo’s limited intellectual functioning.

“The threshold for competency is very low in Maine,” MacLean said. “Everyone is presumed to be competent. I think the judge analyzed it very carefully, and it’s one of those decisions that could have gone either way, based on the evidence.”

Potential jurors filled out two lengthy questionnaires on Wednesday aimed at determining whether they could be fair and impartial in the case. Jurors also were presented with a list of more than 100 names of potential witnesses to find out whether they knew the individuals and, if so, whether their relationship could affect the weight the give to that person’s testimony.

Potential jurors were then called into private chambers individually to answer questions from the legal teams and Murray. The jury selection process is expected to continue into Thursday.

 

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