BELFAST, Maine — A little girl clad in brightly patterned pajamas but with purple bruises on her belly and face so arresting they made some in the courtroom gasp. A little girl lying dead on the floor of a bedroom in the Stockton Springs home she shared with her mother, stepfather and two younger siblings.
Those are just two of the photos that jurors saw Friday during the first day of the murder trial of Sharon Carrillo, the mother of Marissa Kennedy, who died Feb. 25, 2018.
Carrillo is charged with depraved indifference murder and, if convicted, faces the possibility of life in prison for the crime. During opening statements, Donald Macomber, the assistant attorney general who is helping to prosecute the case, described Sharon Carrillo as an enthusiastic participant in the beatings and torture of her daughter.
Macomber described the abuse in some detail, as Carrillo, who sat next to her attorneys, audibly wept.
“Who beat her to death and was responsible for her murder? Her mother, Sharon Carrillo, and her stepfather, Julio Carrillo,” the prosecutor said. “Sharon Carrillo confessed that she and her husband had beat Marissa to death. They said they beat her for being disrespectful. That they had done this a couple of times a day for a month.”
But defense attorney Chris MacLean of Camden painted a sharply different picture of his client, saying that she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her now-estranged husband, Julio Carrillo, who pleaded guilty to killing the girl earlier this year. MacLean said that Sharon Carillo’s very low intelligence and domestic violence history helps explain why she made a false confession to police.
“It’s often said you can never really know what’s going on behind the closed doors of every American home,” the attorney said.
Jurors got a glimpse into some of what was going on behind the unremarkable-looking doors of the condominium unit where the family had been living. The first witnesses called to testify in the trial were among the first people to respond to a 911 call made from the condo on Feb. 25, 2018.
It was a snowy afternoon, and Vern Thompson, the Stockton Springs fire chief and ambulance driver, told the court that he learned from dispatchers about the 10-year-old girl who had “possibly fallen and was not breathing.” He lived nearby and was the first to arrive at the home. When he got there, Julio Carrillo was standing just inside the door holding one of his younger children, Thompson testified, and pointed him in the direction of a bedroom where Marissa Kennedy and Sharon Carrillo were. The mother was on the bed, the little girl on the floor.
Thompson checked Marrissa Kennedy for a pulse but didn’t find one. He noticed that the girl’s eyes were fixed, signaling that she wasn’t breathing. And when he checked her airway, Thompson said he saw “brown stuff coming out of her mouth.” He saw the bruising on her belly and the whitish-gray color of her face. And although the Carrillos had reported to dispatchers that they were trying to do CPR on Marissa, he didn’t witness that himself.
“The mother was just lying on the bed,” Thompson said. “She was crying.”
He told the court he asked Sharon Carrillo if the girl had fallen down a flight of stairs, which might have explained some of the bruising, but she said no.
“I attempted CPR, but it couldn’t be done,” he said.
Sharon Carrillo left the room, and when Thompson heard the baby crying in the kitchen, he told Julio Carrillo — who unlike his wife, was not emotional — to “go take care of his son.” Then he called the dispatch center and told them to send police to the home right away.
A grim photographic tour
Waldo County Sheriff’s Deputy Darrin Moody, the first police officer to arrive, told the court that when he got there, he asked the Carrillos what had happened. Sharon Carrillo, who he described as “very calm,” told him that Marissa had been known to harm herself, by pinching or pulling her hair. And Julio Carrillo took him to the basement, where he told the deputy that Marissa had been watching a movie alone when she hurt herself.
Jurors also went on a grim photographic tour of the home during the testimony of Hugh Landry, a Maine State Police detective. The three-story condo was largely unfurnished and decorated mostly in shades of beige, but the bland interior was dotted with evidence markers that showed where police had identified suspicious brownish stains on the walls and floors. There were also photos that showed ordinary objects that nonetheless seemed ominous given the context of the case: a blue mop in the kitchen, two belts hanging in a closet, several discarded cell phones and stacks of paperwork that included a letter about Marissa’s absenteeism from Searsport District Elementary School.
The detective also explained that police sprayed part of the home with Luminol, a chemical that glows when it comes in contact with blood. Photos displayed to jurors showed the eerie blue glow on some of the tiles, and on the wall of the bathroom. Other evidence he collected included a stained white pajama top that had been found in the living room and a “large pool of staining” under a camp chair in the same room.
‘She especially liked to read’
The jurors also heard more about Marissa and her final days. Macomber said during his opening argument that she had spent much of the fall of 2017 at Acadia Hospital in Bangor and at Sweetser, the community mental health center in Belfast. She was enrolled at the Searsport elementary school but had been absent for 37 days in the first three months of the school year. Her fifth grade teacher, Katie Legere, testified that when Marissa was in school she was quiet, polite, cooperative and got along well with other students.
“She especially liked to read,” the teacher said.
Legere said that Julio Carrillo at some point had described how Marissa acted at home, and it didn’t jibe with the way she was at school.
“[He said] she had ripped a door off the hinges and the other children were afraid of her,” Legere recalled Julio Carrillo saying.
The day’s final witness was a woman from Child Development Services in Knox County, who had come to the home to evaluate Marissa’s two little siblings just five days before she died. June Baird, a special education teacher, parent coach and home visitor, said she and two other early childhood specialists spent about an hour with the family. Baird, who testified over video, said that Marissa, who was in pajamas, followed the family to the daylight basement — the only place in the house with normal furniture — but sat on a couch in the back of the room, away from the others.
At one point, Baird asked if Marissa wanted to come over and participate in an activity.
“She did get up and took a few steps, then went right back to the couch,” the specialist said. “Both parents had turned to look at her. I don’t know if there was a look or a hand gesture, when she abruptly turned to go back to the couch.”
Baird said that the team’s mission that day was only to evaluate the younger siblings, but she grew emotional when she described Marissa, who she remembered had a bruise on her forehead, very chapped lips and sat in a “very contained” manner, without moving around a lot. Julio Carrillo had told her that Marissa had been hospitalized, she said, and Baird thought perhaps the girl was wrongly medicated.
She noticed some of the same effect in Sharon Carrillo too, she said during MacLean’s cross-examination.
“They looked very similar,” Baird said.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Monday.