BELFAST, Maine — Ten-year-old Marissa Kennedy clearly experienced torture at the hands of her mother and stepfather before her death in Stockton Springs two years ago, Justice Robert Murray said on Friday as he explained what factored into his decision to sentence her mother to 48 years in prison for her role in the murder.
But the evidence presented in the 35-year-old’s murder trial in December failed to show that Kennedy’s participation reached the severity of torture necessary under Maine law to impose the maximum life sentence that prosecutors requested. Still, it was too severe to impose the lighter 25-year sentence that her defense team recommended.
In his analysis, Murray compared the criminal actions of Sharon Kennedy with Julio Carrillo, her former husband and Marissa Kennedy’s stepfather.
She didn’t kick her daughter — he did. She didn’t use the metal mop handle that the judge described as a “significant weapon of torture” to beat the girl — he did. She didn’t tell people Marissa Kennedy was dead well before her murder — Julio Carrillo did.
“[Sharon Kennedy] did not demonstrate the same level of planning, as Julio Carrillo,” he said.
Julio Carrillo was sentenced in August to 55 years in prison for the violent beating death of the girl. Kennedy will serve less time because her role in the murder was comparatively “less egregious” than Julio Carrillo’s, the judge said.
But Murray did not gloss over the pain and suffering Marissa Kennedy endured before her death on Feb. 25, 2018. He ran through the long, grim list of injuries detailed by the state medical examiner after the girl’s death — injuries that included fractured ribs, blunt trauma to the head, hemorrhaging to the brain, liver lacerations and more.
And he didn’t go easy on Sharon Kennedy, who took back her maiden name after getting her marriage annulled in December shortly after her trial concluded.
“This defendant was an active participant in the depraved indifference murder of Marissa Kennedy,” Murray said. “This defendant confessed over the course of a number of hours of interviews in her own words … she repeatedly said, over and over again, ‘I should have stopped.’ ‘I should have stopped.’ She didn’t say, ‘I should have stopped him.’ She didn’t say, ‘I should have gotten help for Marissa.’”
At the beginning of the hearing, Leane Zainea, the assistant attorney general who was prosecuting the case, talked about the girl’s life.
“Her death should not define who she was,” Zainea said. “She had a bright and promising future ahead of her. But her life ended in a horrific way, at the hands of the very people that should have nurtured and cared for her. For months, she must have been in agony and pain. Each day she must have feared another beating from her mother and stepfather.”
The prosecutor didn’t give credence to the claim that Sharon Kennedy, who has a very low IQ and an intellectual disability, was also the victim of domestic violence at the hands of Carrillo. That argument had been a major part of her defense, but in “thousands and thousands” of cellphone photographs of Sharon Kennedy, none show injuries to her, Zainea said, contrasting that with the photos of Marissa Kennedy’s bruised, broken body that the jury was shown during the trial.
“Not one single photograph showing extensive bruising to [Sharon Kennedy’s] face,” the prosecutor said. “No open wounds on her knees or the top of her feet from kneeling on the floor. Whether she was or was not a victim of domestic violence does not [excuse her].”
Zainea said that in phone calls made from the Somerset County Jail, where she has been incarcerated, Sharon Kennedy has not expressed remorse.
“During her hours and hours of jail calls, no tears were shed for Marissa. Only tears for her situation,” the prosecutor said.
Sharon Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy, described his daughter as a good mother to Marissa Kennedy when they all lived together in New York state.
“Julio seemed like a nice guy,” he said. “Sharon was mentally and physically abused by a predator. A predator that her family and friends did not see as the despicable monster that he is.”
He told the court about the moment he learned about Marissa Kennedy’s death.
“It felt like a knife has been thrust into my heart. I would not wish this pain on anyone,” he said. “During the two years since the murder, my family has dealt not only with the loss of Marissa, but with the loss of Sharon also.”
He said that Zainea did not speak the truth when she said Sharon Kennedy hadn’t cried for her daughter.
“There were many times she has cried to me about the death of Marissa,” he said.
During the hearing, Shaw said that there had been ample evidence presented during the trial that indicated Sharon Kennedy had been subjected to extreme psychological and mental abuse, including a photograph taken from a cell phone that showed her kneeling, naked and with her arms above her head, on the kitchen floor next to her daughter, who was in the same position. As well, mental health professionals that met with the family testified that Julio Carrillo did the speaking for the family, and that Sharon Kennedy seemed afraid to speak.
“The court needs to consider that whatever conduct Sharon [Kennedy] engaged in, she did it in the context of this extreme domestic violence at the hands of Julio Carrillo,” Shaw said.
The lawyer also suggested that the state had essentially tried Sharon Kennedy on more than one theory — that she was both the principal actor in the murder, and that she was an accomplice. When the jury found her guilty, it is impossible to know which theory that decision was based on — and the answer matters, because it could affect the length of her sentence.
“We are never going to know the answer to that question, and the court needs to find a way to resolve that ambiguity,” she said.
Shaw recommended that Sharon Kennedy’s basic sentence be set between 25 and 32 years, and that the mitigating factors in her opinion outweighed the aggravating factors. Kennedy has no criminal history, has cognitive limitations and was a victim of domestic violence when this crime took place, which is “certainly a mitigating factor,” the lawyer said.
Justice Murray agreed that mitigating factors — including her intellectual shortcomings, but not her domestic abuse — outweighed the aggravating factors when it came to Sharon Kennedy’s sentencing, but not by much. He said that Marissa Kennedy’s significant suffering, and the impact of her death, are the aggravating factors.
The sentence was not what Kennedy’s family had hoped for. Roseann Kennedy, Sharon Kennedy’s stepmother, told the court that they could never have imagined the “domestic violence with a horrific ending” that happened in Maine.
“No one’s life will ever be the same,” she said. “Sharon is truly a good person who got herself into a nightmare that will never go away.”