BELFAST — State prosecutors said Sharon Carrillo’s top concern was never her daughter but to “get out of trouble” as she helped concoct a story about Marissa Kennedy’s death and then cast herself as an abuse victim after being charged with murder.

Marissa Kennedy

In closing arguments to a jury on Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said Carrillo even ignored her daughter’s fateful cries of “It feels like I’m dying” as the 10-year-old succumbed to injuries sustained during months of abuse.

“Days before her death, this little girl knew she was dying and so did her mother … because her daughter, Marissa, told her so,” Zainea said. But rather than get help, Carrillo “beat Marissa because she and Julio Carrillo believed that Marissa was faking.”

When jurors return for deliberations on Wednesday, they will have to square that depiction of Carrillo with defense attorneys’ portrayal of a domestic violence victim with low intellect who was convinced to falsely confess to crimes committed by her controlling husband.

“Sharon Carrillo might be a terrible mother,” defense attorney Christopher MacLean said in his closing arguments. “She may be a person who should never have children of her own and she maybe is a person who the welfare of children should never be entrusted to. But none of that makes her guilty of murder, and she is not on trial for all of these other things.”

With night falling and snow beginning to accumulate Tuesday, Superior Court Justice Robert Murray sent jurors home rather than having them begin deliberations following an emotional, eight-day trial. Carrillo faces 25 years to life in prison if found guilty of “depraved indifference murder” in Marissa’s February 2018 death.

Julio Carrillo is already serving a 55-year sentence after pleading guilty to murdering his stepdaughter.

To secure a conviction, prosecutors will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the 35-year-old woman caused, aided in or facilitated her daughter’s death. And Zainea had plenty of evidence to point to as she made her closing case to jurors.

After initially describing Marissa’s death as an accident or a result of Marissa intentionally harming herself, Carrillo gradually acknowledged to investigators that she slapped, hit and even beat her daughter with a belt for months. Jurors heard all of those confessions, which were recorded by Maine State Police detectives in the days following Marissa’s death.

Carrillo’s attorneys maintain that those are false confessions given by a traumatized and easily manipulated woman whose intelligence measures below 98 percent of the population. But Zainea said a low IQ doesn’t absolve Carrillo from abusing Marissa or, at best, standing by as her husband beat her first-born daughter to death over months.

Even if Carrillo was a domestic violence victim, Zainea said, she had ample opportunities to tell police, child welfare caseworkers, doctors, counselor and school staff that her husband was severely abusing her daughter.

“For months, Sharon Carrillo said nothing about the abuse that Marissa endured,” Zainea said. “And on the very morning of Marissa’s death, when she couldn’t speak anymore and when she couldn’t walk anymore, Sharon Carrillo said nothing to her father” during a phone call.

Carrillo’s trial revealed additional, gut-wrenching details of Marissa’s physical and psychological abuse near the end of her life. Jurors were shown graphic autopsy photos of a little girl’s body covered in massive bruises and deep, infected wounds on her knees and feet incurred while being forced to kneel on a tile floor during punishments.

Marissa had three semi-healed broken ribs from an earlier injury, a lacerated liver and the type of cell death caused by chronic, prolonged exposure to high amounts of adrenaline. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Flomenbaum testified Marissa’s heart simply “gave out” from injuries, stress and infection after months of abuse.

The trial also highlighted systemic failures within the programs that are supposed to protect children from abuse. Multiple neighbors, a housekeeper, a school nurse, Marissa’s guidance counselor and the girl’s doctor reported suspected abuse to police or expressed concerns about the girl’s family situation to DHHS.

But Julio Carrillo always insisted – often with his wife’s affirmation – that the noise neighbors heard was Marissa or her mother throwing “tantrums” related to their mental illness. And when a social worker saw bruises on Marissa’s face just two days before her death, Julio and Sharon Carrillo said the girl had purposely smashed her head against the wall.

Sharon Carrillo’s attorneys maintain that their client never abused her daughter and point to the fact that no physical evidence links her to that abuse. Instead, multiple witnesses testified for the defense about seeing Julio Carrillo strike Marissa or his wife and about him being the aggressor when calling police about noise from the apartment.

“The entire case that the state has rests on the reliability of the words spoken by Sharon,” MacLean said in his closing remarks. “And those are words coming from the mouth of a domestic violence victim at the lowest 2 percent of intelligence who, when first asked, denied all allegations of abuse, one after the other.”

The defense has argued that Carrillo falsely confessed to abusing her daughter out of fear of her abusive husband and because she was vulnerable to suggestions made by trained police interrogators. In fact, MacLean said, Carrillo even agreed to detectives’ suggestions that she was lying about things that proved to be true.

“Not a single idea of child abuse came from the lips of Sharon Carrillo,” MacLean said.

Earlier Thursday, a forensic psychologist employed by the state testified that Carrillo exhibited multiple “risk factors” for falsely confessing to participating in the physical abuse of her daughter.

Dr. Sarah Miller interviewed Carrillo for more than six hours as part of the psychological evaluations requested by prosecutors. But in the end, it was Carrillo’s defense attorneys who called upon Miller to testify about how their client’s low intellect, experiences of domestic abuse and susceptibility to persuasion may have led her to falsely confess.

“I’m very confident that the risk factors are there,” Miller said. “What I can’t do is say whether or not it actually is a false confession. That is outside of my purview.”

That will be a key question jurors must answer as they return Wednesday to decide whether Carrillo is guilty of murder.

In her closing remarks, Zainea reminded jurors about the graphic autopsy images of Marissa’s injuries. She then showed jurors photo after photo of Sharon Carrillo without any noticeable bruises or injuries, including pictures of her face and hands taken by police the day Marissa died.

Zainea then reminded jurors that they are not charged with deciding whether Julio Carrillo abused his wife or if Sharon Carrillo had “a rough life.”

“You don’t have to decide those issues because Julio Carrillo is not on trial here and Sharon Carrillo is not the victim in this case,” Zainea said. “Her 10-year-old daughter is the victim in this case and the only victim.”

 

 

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