The judge in the murder case against Sharon Carrillo will review psychological evaluations to determine whether she is competent to stand trial. 2018 photo by David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

BELFAST — Jury selection is expected to begin this week in the trial of a Stockton Springs woman accused of killing her 10-year-old daughter in an abuse case that revealed gaps in Maine’s child protection system.

Sharon Carrillo, 34, is charged with depraved indifference murder in the February 2018 death of her daughter, Marissa Kennedy, following what police and prosecutors say was months of extreme physical abuse. Carrillo’s husband, Julio Carrillo, was sentenced to 55 years in prison in August after pleading guilty to murder.

Marissa Kennedy

On Monday, Maine Superior Court Justice Robert Murray heard arguments on several preliminary motions dealing with the display of graphic photos during opening statements and Julio Carrillo’s alleged domestic abuse of his wife.

Murray also will review several psychological evaluations of Sharon Carrillo – the most recent completed just last week at the request of her defense lawyers – to determine whether she is competent to stand trial. Carrillo’s lawyers have cited their client’s reported intellectual disability.

If Carrillo is deemed competent, the trial is expected be a lengthy and emotional one focused not only on Carrillo’s alleged involvement in the abuse but also her mental status.

Attorneys for the state and Carrillo’s defense team expect to begin interviewing possible jurors on Wednesday – one day late because of Tuesday’s anticipated winter storm – with the goal of commencing the trial by Friday. Nearly 150 people have been designated as potential witnesses, although not all of them will ultimately testify.

“Basically, we need to find a group of jurors who can be fair and impartial, so we have to go through a fairly extensive process of going over all of the potential witnesses with the jurors,” said Christopher MacLean, one of Carrillo’s defense attorneys.

Additionally, MacLean said his side will be looking for jurors able to focus on the evidence in the case and not the emotional aspects of the 10-year-old girl’s death.

The state’s two prosecutors, assistant attorneys general Don Macomber and Leane Zainea, declined to discuss Monday’s courtroom proceedings or the jury selection process.

“In an effort to place a fair and impartial jury, we don’t believe it would be appropriate to comment,” Zainea said.

The deaths of Marissa Kennedy and 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset shocked Maine residents in late 2017 and early 2018. In both cases, the girls were subjected to long periods of brutal and repeated physical abuse.

Julio and Sharon Carrillo were accused of beating Marissa regularly in the months before her death as well as the day she died in their Stockton Springs condominium. While they initially told police that Marissa died after an accident in their basement, both later told investigators that they had beaten the girl repeatedly in preceding months.

Marissa was determined to have died of battered child syndrome, stemming from internal and external injuries inflicted over an extended period. During Julio Carrillo’s sentencing in August, Murray said evidence showed “a formalized and repeatedly ritual torture imposed and inflicted upon” the girl.

The two cases prompted close scrutiny of Maine’s child protective services, including reviews by the Legislature’s independent watchdog agency and investigations by the Portland Press Herald and other media. Since then, there have been efforts to strengthen staffing among the agencies that oversee child welfare.

Julio Carrillo was sentenced to 55 years rather than life in prison in part because he took responsibility for his stepdaughter’s death. But that guilty plea meant his case never went to a jury, unlike Sharon Carrillo’s upcoming trial, unless Murray declares her incompetent.

Sharon Carrillo sat quietly in court on Monday, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and occasionally covering her face with her hands. She did not speak during the legal proceedings, other than to her attorneys.

The trial is expected to include graphic photographs and details of the girl’s abuse. 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.

For instance, the defense wanted to submit evidence of that domestic violence during the upcoming trial, particularly as it pertains to statements that Sharon Carrillo made confessing to knowing of or taking part in beating her daughter.

“We anticipate arguing that these statements were made in part out of fear of Julio Carrillo, and this fear is based on various acts that Julio Carrillo committed against Sharon Carrillo over the years,” defense attorney Lauren Shaw said. “So discussion of what those facts were is certainly relevant to her state of mind when she made the statements that she made to police.”

State prosecutors, however, requested that Murray not allow evidence of domestic violence during the trial, or severely limit its use by the defense team.

“The whole issue of domestic violence in this case is a side issue,” Macomber said. This is a trial of the State of Maine against Sharon Carrillo in which we have to prove that she engaged in conduct against Marissa Kennedy. This isn’t a trial of Julio Carrillo for any actions that he may or may not have committed against Sharon Carrillo.”

Ultimately, Murray said he would decide whether the jury should hear evidence of domestic violence on a case-by-case basis rather than issue a broad ruling before a trial governing all such evidence.

Murray rejected an attempt by state prosecutors to use photographs during their opening statement to jurors, saying it would be inappropriate to display something that could be used as evidence before “safeguards” are established.

Macomber said the state’s burden is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt “that Sharon Carrillo’s conduct was shocking, heinous, savage and brutal.”

“As you know from viewing the photographs yourself at the time of Julio Carrillo’s sentencing, pictures speak a thousand words. …” Macomber said. “And for the state’s openings to have the impact that I think it should have, I should be able to utilize some of the photographs in my opening statement.”

But Shaw argued that allowing the display of graphic images could sway the jury at the outset of the trial and that it would be inappropriate to allow use of photos that have not yet been admitted as evidence.

“The photographs are highly graphic and have a tendency to arouse sympathy for the victim,” Shaw said. “Introducing these photographs in the early stages in the trial would be prejudicial to the defendant.”

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