BELFAST — A child welfare social worker who visited the home of Marissa Kennedy two days before she died testified Monday that she saw bruising on the 10-year-old’s face and arms but was told by the girl’s parents that she had been abusing herself.

Suzanne Webber, formerly with the state contractor Home Counselors Inc. in Rockland, said she visited the Stockton Springs condominium of Sharon and Julio Carrillo six times over four months to follow up on concerns about potential child abuse.

Testifying Monday in the murder trial of Sharon Carrillo, Webber said she saw Marissa twice during those visits, the last occurring just two days before she died on Feb. 25, 2018, of what the state medical examiner determined was “battered child syndrome.”

During that hourlong visit, Webber testified, Marissa sat quietly on a couch and appeared to fall asleep on her mother as she spoke with the parents.

“I noticed a bruise on her eye and what looked to be a couple of small scratches,” Webber said. “I asked her about the bruises and what happened, and she did not answer me.”

But in cross-examination, defense attorney Christopher MacLean suggested that perhaps Marissa didn’t answer “because she was either fading in and out of sleep or fading in and out of consciousness.”

“My belief was that she was tired and sleeping,” Webber said. “I had been told that she had been having behavioral issues, again hitting herself, pinching herself, that she had thrown herself against the wall. I was also told that they were seeking some help for her.”

Marissa’s death, along with the abuse-related death of a Wiscasset child just months earlier, sparked more than a year of close scrutiny of Maine’s child welfare services as well as ongoing reforms. Subsequent investigations revealed flaws in the system, poor communication between agencies and missed opportunities to potentially intervene in the girls’ cases.

Julio Carrillo pleaded guilty to depraved indifference murder in the death of his stepdaughter and was sentenced to 55 years in prison in August. State prosecutors allege that Sharon Carrillo confessed to participating in months of severe abuse of her daughter before her death.

Sharon Carrillo’s defense lawyers maintain that their client was convinced to give a false confession out of fear of her husband and was a victim – along with her daughter – of Julio Carrillo’s extreme physical and sexual abuse. And they plan to make Julio Carrillo’s alleged domestic abuse of his wife as a key defense strategy.

A licensed social worker, Webber worked for a nonprofit that checks into child abuse and neglect concerns in cases that were deemed to be lower-risk by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Protective Services.

MacLean pointed repeatedly to statements made by Webber that she found Julio Carrillo “charming” and personable during their meetings, while Sharon Carrillo was sad and subdued. MacLean also pressed Webber on how often she checked into the excuses for why the Carrillos had canceled meetings with her or into Julio Carrillo’s statements about his wife’s repeated “tantrums” and mental illness – records that would have been accessible with a waiver from the family.

“As we sit here today, do you remember looking at a single document that corroborated the truthfulness of what Julio Carrillo told you about Sharon Carrillo’s craziness?” MacLean asked.

“I don’t recall that I did, no,” Webber said.

Marissa was treated multiple times at Acadia Hospital and Sweetser – two mental or behavioral health facilities – for what her parents described as self-harming tendencies and violent behavior such as throwing chairs. But Sharon Carrillo told police that staff at Acadia Hospital said they never witnessed such behavior at the facility.

Maine DHHS records also indicate that police had been called several times about fighting in the home where Julio Carrillo was reported to be the “aggressor.”

Webber said that is why she sought to speak with Sharon Carrillo separately, but at the time the mother of three denied any domestic abuse. But MacLean said Webber had taken Julio Carrillo’s statements about his wife and daughter’s tantrums “at face value,” even writing after a January 2018 meeting that “the children are believed to be safe as Julio has taken the immediate steps to protect them.”

Jurors spent the rest of Monday listening to Sharon Carrillo’s initial accounts of what happened that February day via an audio recording of her first sit-down interview with detectives hours after Marissa’s death.

The recording also provided additional details on turbulent events prior to Feb. 25, including that Sharon Carrillo was hospitalized the previous fall after threatening to commit suicide and that the family was preparing to move into a Rockland family shelter after repeated noise complaints at the condo where they lived, which was owned by her parents.

Both parents said Marissa went into a basement living area to watch a movie by herself and that Julio Carrillo found her severely injured in a utility room three hours later. While the Carrillos said Marissa was breathing when they found her, the first EMT arrived minutes after the 911 call and testified last week that the girl had obviously been dead for some time and was not revivable.

The two state police detectives working the case, Scott Quintero and Jason Andrews, pressed Sharon Carrillo repeatedly to explain what exactly happened to her daughter. Carrillo insisted that Marissa’s injuries were self-inflicted and that perhaps she was lashing out in frustration in response to one of her “triggers.”

“She just figured that my parents are not down here watching me so this is a good time for me to hurt myself way more than I used to,” Carrillo is heard telling detectives in the recording.

“So you think those injuries, she gave them to herself?” one of the detectives asks.

“Yeah, oh yeah … we would never abuse her, we never abused any of our kids,” Carrillo responded.

But Carrillo’s answers about punishment methods changed over the roughly two-hour interview. She eventually acknowledged spanking Marissa and occasionally forcing her to remain on her knees until she calmed down.

After being pressed by the detectives, Sharon Carrillo said “it may be a possibility” that Julio used harsher punishments.

“I don’t know what kind of punishment he gives her when I’m in the room with the other kids,” Carrillo replied. “I just don’t know. I don’t think he would ever hurt his kids like that, but … ”

Clearly skeptical but trying to gently coax answers from Carrillo, the detectives pressed her on why Marissa had severe bruising on her abdomen and head as well as open sores on her knees – injuries, they added, that were not sustained that day and likely could not have been self-inflicted.

Carrillo denied any knowledge of the injuries, however.

“Something happened to Marissa,” a detective said. “We all in the room know there is something that you haven’t shared. The time is now,”

“I don’t know,” Carrillo said through sobs.

Prosecutors are expected to play a second recording of Carrillo – obtained after they had interviewed Julio Carrillo separately – during which she reportedly confesses to participating in beating her daughter.

 

 

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