Sharon Kennedy, the mother convicted of murdering her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy, listens to the prosecution speak at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast during her sentencing hearing on Feb. 21. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

Maine Supreme Judicial Court justices seemed reluctant Tuesday to order a new trial for the mother serving a 48-year prison term for her role in the 2018 beating death of her 10-year-old daughter.

Attorneys for Sharon Kennedy, formerly Carrillo, 36, argued in their appeal to Maine’s highest court that Superior Court Justice Robert Murray should have considered Kennedy a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her former husband, Julio Carrillo, and given more weight to how Kennedy’s low IQ and intellectual disability affected her behavior and allowed for manipulation by her husband.

The intense abuse Marissa Kennedy suffered, which came to light after her death, shook people around Maine and beyond and focused intense scrutiny on the state’s child welfare system. It spurred a series of state investigations into the system as well as efforts to overhaul it.

Chris MacLean of Camden, who represented Kennedy at her trial last year, said that Murray should have suppressed Kennedy’s confession to police as involuntary, instructed the jury that she may have been under duress when she participated in the abuse of the girl and that as a victim of domestic violence she could not have acted as an accomplice. 

Under Maine law, the definition of duress does not include being a victim of domestic violence.

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Justice Joseph Jabar said Tuesday that MacLean was able to call witnesses who testified that Kennedy was a victim of domestic violence and told jurors in his closing argument that Kennedy was as much a victim as Marissa was.

“The jury didn’t buy it,” Jabar said.

MacLean replied that he was allowed to make that argument but was not allowed to tell the jury what to do with that evidence because Murray would not instruct the jury on the legal concept of duress. Under Maine law, duress may be a defense when a person is forced to commit a crime “by threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury to that person or another person or because that person was compelled to do so by force.”  

To prove that, Kennedy should have taken the stand and testified about how she was abused by her husband, Jabar said.

Justice Ellen Gorman said the jury could have concluded that Kennedy was not a victim of domestic violence because when arrested she had no bruises, no broken bones and no physical signs of abuse.

She also said that the Legislature and not judges have defined what constitutes duress.

“Do you want judges to go where the Legislature will not?” Gorman asked.

MacLean replied, “yes,” and asked the court to include domestic violence in the definition of duress.

MacLean also said that her sentence is too harsh. The defense team recommended a sentence of 25 years while the prosecution asked that Kennedy be incarcerated for life. The justices did not ask questions about the sentence on Tuesday.

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Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin argued in her brief for the prosecution that Murray’s decisions and sentence followed the law and that there was no evidence presented at the trial that Kennedy was a victim of physical abuse as her daughter was.

Robbin said Tuesday that MacLean “grossly overstated” the evidence of domestic violence Kennedy suffered. 

“Sharon [Kennedy] admitted to beating her daughter to the point where she said, ‘It feels like I’m dying,’” the prosecutor said.

Kennedy and Carrillo, 54, were charged with killing Marissa in February 2018 after the girl endured months of beatings at the Stockton Springs condominium where the family was living. Carrillo pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced last year to 55 years in prison. Carrillo’s earliest possible release date is July 28, 2065.

He is in the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections but is incarcerated in New Hampshire, according to the department’s prisoner locator website. The department does not release information on why prisoners are held out of state.

Kennedy is being held at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Her earliest release date is July 8, 2059. She went back to using her maiden name in December after having her marriage annulled.

It would be exceedingly rare but not unheard of for the justices to grant Kennedy a new trial or to set aside her sentence. In June, Maine’s highest court granted a new trial to a Massachusetts man serving a 35-year prison sentence for robbing and killing Douglas Morin Jr., 31, of Oakfield four years ago due to flawed jury instructions.

A new trial date for Marcus Asante, 24, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in the case of a marijuana deal gone awry has not been set. He is being held without bail at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton.

Asante’s case was the first since 2004 in which the state’s high court ordered a new trial in a homicide case. Brandon Thongsavanh was retried in 2005 and found guilty of murdering a Bates College student during a 2002 street brawl in Lewiston.

Now 38, Thongsavanh is serving a 58-year sentence at a prison in Maryland, according to the Maine Department of Corrections. The first verdict was overturned when justices ruled that a reference to a profane T-shirt Thongsavanh was wearing on the night of the killing may have prejudiced the jury.

There is no timeline under which the justices must issue decisions in appeals.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Chris MacLean’s last name.