Maine’s top court will decide whether to grant a new trial for a woman who was convicted of murdering her 10-year-old daughter, a case that prompted reforms in the state’s child protection system.

Marissa Kennedy

Sharon Kennedy, whose last name was previously Carrillo, was sentenced to 48 years in prison for her role in the death of Marissa Kennedy in 2018. A jury found the Stockton Springs mother guilty of depraved indifference murder at a lengthy and emotional trial in December. Julio Carrillo, who was the girl’s stepfather, was sentenced to 55 years after pleading guilty to the same charge.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments in Kennedy’s appeal virtually on Tuesday morning.

Her lawyers have repeatedly said that she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her then-husband, and that trauma caused her to falsely confess to helping him beat their daughter to death over a period of months. Defense attorney Chris MacLean argued Tuesday that the trial court should not have denied a motion to suppress that confession and failed to give adequate instructions to the jury about the defense of duress. State law defines that option as when a person is compelled to commit a crime by force or by threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury.

“Just as the death of Marissa Kennedy exposed the systematic failures of our child protective system, the conviction of Sharon Carrillo exposes the barrier to justice that victims of domestic violence continue to experience in the courts of the state of Maine,” MacLean said.

The prosecutors have argued that Sharon Kennedy’s actions could not be excused by her low cognitive ability or her own experiences of domestic violence. Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin argued again Tuesday that the defense attorneys had overstated the evidence of abuse against the mother, who eventually admitted her own role in the violence against her daughter.

“The domestic violence torture victim was 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, the victim of depraved indifference murder by her parents,” Robbin said.

Kennedy, 36, is incarcerated at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. Carrillo, 54, is serving his own sentence in New Hampshire. A clerk at the Supreme Judicial Court said Carrillo did not file an appeal in his own case.

The justices do not have a timetable for their opinion.

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