Jurors hear from some who tried to help Marissa Kennedy prior to beating death

Sun, 12/15/2019 - 9:30pm

BELFAST — The first part of the sixth day of the trial against Sharon Carrillo for the depraved indifference murder of her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy, was spent with prosecutors and defense attorneys taking turns examining Joseph and Roseann Kennedy, Sharon’s father and longtime stepmother. 

Neighbors and coworkers of the Carrillos were next to be called, with Maxine Egstrom taking the stand immediately after the Kennedy’s were dismissed. Engstrom worked at the Belfast Ocean State Job Lot during the same period that Julio Carrillo was employed there and testified that months before Marissa’s death Julio had reported to Ocean State that she had died. 

Engstrom said that Julio came in in late 2017 when she was working at the front desk and told her he needed to talk to the assistant manager on duty because he had had a death in the family. Engstrom testified Julio had a piece of paper in his hand he claimed was the relative’s death certificate, though she did not actually see what was written. When asked by Sharon’s Attorney Chris MacLean about Julio’s demeanor at the time, Engstrom said it was no different than usual. 

Michael Gilman, who worked as an assistant manager at the Belfast Job Lot during the months prior to Marissa’s death, was the one Julio spoke to after speaking with Engstrom. Gilman testified that before Julio brought the “death certificate” into work Julio had previously called out and told Gilman a relative died. It was the following day that he arrived at the store with the alleged death certificate. 

Gilman said it was only several days later that Julio mentioned it was his daughter who had died. Julio reportedly said that Marissa had died after repeatedly bashing her head into a wall. When asked whether Julio seemed “broken up” at the time, Gilman replied that he was, “probably more broken up than [Julio] was.” Gilman said he had left the Belfast store prior to Marissa’s actual death. 

A few of the Carrillos neighbors during their time in Bangor testified next. Randy Poulin was the first to testify, saying that even though he never met the Carrillos, he had seen them interact and witnessed Julio striking Marissa. 

Poulin said that Carrillos were moving into their unit when he observed Julio place heavy boxes into Marissa’s hands. When she was unable to hold the box and dropped it, Poulin said he saw Julio “smack” Marissa, who said appeared roughly six, in the head. When asked how hard Julio struck Marissa, Poulin said, “like he would to another adult. He hit her like a guy would hit another guy.”

Poulin said Marissa went down a little before getting back up. After the “smack” Poulin said he saw Julio take a stuffed animal that was on top of a box and throw it into a dumpster. Poulin said on another occasion he saw Julio “kind of dragging” Marissa into the apartment, shaking her as the went. Poulin said Marissa was crying at the time. 

Later in his testimony, Poulin said he found perfectly good children’s sneakers in the dumpster, noting Marissa often took the trash out barefoot. Poulin said that at different times he witnessed Julio throwing away child’s items, such as toys, nice furniture, and children’s shoes. Poulin told MacLean it didn’t make any sense because there was nothing wrong with the items being thrown away. 

Poulin also said he witnessed Julio strike Sharon in the face, and that Sharon would often be crying when outside the residence, either in the family car or as she was leaving the apartment. According to Poulin he talked to other neighbors about what he had witnessed and the three called police together. 

Police were often at the Carrillo residence, Poulin stated, but stated under cross-examination he had never seen anyone be arrested. 

Another Carrillo neighbor, Ethan Miele, was called to testify. Miele, who at the time was at the beginning stages of entering the clergy, said he lived directly above the Carrillos with a roommate. 

Miele said they could frequently hear fighting in the Carrillo household and was asked to what sort of things he heard. 

“Crying, whimpering, what I would call skin on skin contact. That’s really what comes to mind,” Miele said before MacLean asked how loud the noises were. “Loud enough to be concerned,” Miele said, adding it bothered him and his roommate.

Miele said they became so concerned that they made several phone calls to report suspected abuse, including two calls to the Bangor Police Department, one to the Department of Health and Human Services, and an additional complaint to the landlord to file a noise complaint.  Miele said he felt his reports had no effect on the situation.

“I would assume if a child was in danger they would take immediate action but it seemed to have fallen on deaf ears,” Miele told jurors.

Another incident caused Miele and his roommate to “take the law into their own hands,” with MacLean asking to explain what had happened. 

Miele said that on that particular occasion the “beating” sounds went on for too long until 10 or 11 p.m.  Miele said usually he and his roommate would stomp on the floor and the Carrillos to stop, but this time they went down and began banging on the door. “ Cause at that point we were convinced he was beating [Sharon] or the kids,” Miele said.

Julio denied abusing anyone through the door but refused to open it, causing Miele and his roommates to continue banging until the hinges broke and the door came ajar, though Miele said neither he or his roommate set foot in the apartment. When Julio again appeared at the door, he once again denied the abuse, with Miele noting that Sharon stood behind and off to the side of Julio. 

Bangor Police responded to the situation and, “said to not worry about it, and that it wasn’t really our place to decide what was or was not going on in their apartment and that they had procedures and ways to go about investigating this,” Miele said. Miele said that although the abuse continued, he and his roommate never made another report. 

When it was time for his cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber asked Miele to confirm he was technically breaking and entering several times, though Miele insisted he and his roommate had never entered the house, the hinges on the door just broke. Macomber also pointed out that whenever police went to the scene, Sharon would tell them everything was ok and that they were sorry for the noise. 

Dr. Michael J. O’Connell was the next person called by the defense and took the first five minutes on the stand to go over his extensive qualifications in the field of forensic psychology. 

“Forensic psychology, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena. This definition emphasizes the application of clinical psychology to the forensic setting,” according to the American Psychological Association.

“[I] specialize in forensic psychology and within that that I’ve given talks on, written on, is this area of false confessions,” O'Connell told jurors.

He explained false confessions to the jury as admitting something they didn’t do, noting there are many proven cases of false confessions and that people with low intelligence are especially at risk of making a false confession.

O'Connell pointed out the Innocence Project, which is a group dedicated to freeing falsely incarcerated individuals. O'Connell also said that depression and having been involved in a relationship with domestic violence adds to the vulnerability of a false confession. 

O'Connell said there are three types of false confession.

The first is voluntary, where a person admits something for fame or other personally motivated reason.

The second is where a person falsely confesses following a coercive interrogation, where someone will falsely admit committing a crime because of the pressure being exerted by law enforcement.

O'Connell noted with this type, once the pressure is alleviated, the person in question will once again deny involvement.

The third type is internalized, where a person is actually convinced they did something that they didn’t. 

Police interrogations are coercive by nature, inherently applying pressure on people, according to O'Connell, who added that interrogations have to be coercive by nature because they are applying pressure to a person to admit something. 

When asked by Attorney Laura Shaw how he goes about evaluating someone, O'Connell went over his research methods.

O'Connell said he looks at multiple sources, interviews people that know the person he is evaluating and looks into school, medical, and psychiatric records.

“I will also look at whatever interrogation info [is available],” O'Connell said.

There are also multiple tests given to the subject; in this case, Sharon, to see how they would do in an interrogation. The tests evaluated things like suggestibility and intelligence. 

 “It’s the integration of all that to determine risk factors a person would have had during this type of interrogation,” O'Connell said, noting there are two different types of risk factors: IQ and susceptibility, and the other is situational, like use of the good cop/bad cop technique, or other interrogation techniques.  

O'Connell said he had been retained by the defense and asked to evaluate vulnerabilities to influence Sharon from both law enforcement and her husband Julio, and that he was not asked to determine whether Sharon actually falsely confessed, only to review her risk factors. 

O'Connell reiterated claims that Sharon’s intellect tests in the second percentile of the average person, meaning 98 percent of people are more intelligent than Sharon. 

Despite several interactions with at times forceful members of law enforcement, O'Connell said he thought the primary source of coercion for Sharon was her husband, Julio, whom she feared and did not want to upset. 

“In this particular case, I think [Sharon’s] concern was fear that her husband would harm her. That she would be at risk to just agree, acquiesce,” O'Connell said.

Sharon was in a domestically violent relationship and knew law enforcement had just spoken to Julio before talking to her. Dr. O’Connel said Julio is who Sharon is concerned about. “That is who she is concerned about, that’s who she is going to yield to,” he said. 

O'Connell said that during the first interview, held within hours of Marissa being found dead, Sharon stuck to the story she and Julio presented, about Marissa harming herself in the basement.

After that interview, Julio was interviewed by police and told them he and Sharon were involved. There is audio of Sharon and Julio having a brief conversation when trading from interviewee to caretaker of their two young children. During that, Julio told Sharon that she didn’t listen [to him] and they had told different stories. 

“You can hear[Julio] talk [to Sharon] and say they need to stand together or he’s going to get in more trouble,” O'Connell said.

Sharon is heard saying it’s not true and Julio is heard telling her to calm down and that she didn’t listen to him and they told different stories before asking Sharon, “are you listening to me now?” O'Connell said that was consistent with what [Sharon] said in later interviews and what [Julio] wanted her to say.

“It would be very difficult [for Sharon] to assert herself, to go against [Julio’s] wishes,” he said. “We know that’s true of people [in domestically violent relationships], [and the] effects would be more pronounced one someone like Sharon. To the extent that the detectives, maybe even not intentionally, leveraged that, [repeatedly] referencing what [Julio] said to them, I think would have a significant impact on Miss Carrillo.”

When detectives returned to interview Sharona second time, they told her Julio’ is one honest man,’ and that he had been 100 percent truthful.

When Sharon didn’t admit abusing Marissa, detectives began suggesting types of abuse she could have been involved with, and she eventually agreed with their assertions.

Most of the questions asked by detectives were closed, leaving room for a yes or no. When Sharon denied taking part in certain activities she was told she was not being honest and that Julio had told them everything. Eventually, she agreed with detectives. 

There are only two areas during the second interview where Sharon denied participating; but in both cases, she was not challenged on her denial like she was with other questions. 

O’Connell said that despite the pressure from detectives, it was Julio whom Sharon was afraid of angering.

When asked by Shaw what determinations he was able to make, he said he identified several individual risk factors, including suggestibility and tendency to yield to the influence of other people, Sharon’s intellectual disabilities, her mood, including depression, and high anxiety. 

His ultimate determination was that Sharon was at risk of falsely confessing. 

When AAG Leane Zainea cross-examined O'Connell, she asked him whether he was purporting himself to be an expert on domestic violence, which he said he was not. 

When AAG Zainea said O’Connell was requested to examine clients and form reports for the benefit of the attorney who retained them, he denied that it was for anyone’s benefit. He noted that in about 50 percent of the cases he has worked on he had not found answers that were favorable to the attorney who retained him. In those cases, he said, he was generally not asked to create a report or to testify, as it would be unhelpful for the respective case. 

Zainea pointed out that O'Connell is almost exclusively retained by defense attorneys, he agreed, noting that prosecutors would have no interest in his services. 

“You’re hired to go around the country to say confessions are false, right,” Zainea asked, to which O'Connell said no. 

“No. I assess whether someone is vulnerable to making a false confession,” he said. “I don’t go around making statements about whether the confession was false or not.” 

“Have you ever testified in a hearing that a confession wasn’t false,” Zainea asked.

“Once again, I’ve seen those people, but been asked not to come to court or write a report. I write reports after I tell the attorney what my opinion is. That happens in half the cases,” O’Connell responded. 

Zainea pointed out that O'Connell was being paid to be there, which he said was true. 

It was also pointed out by prosecutors that on a suggestibility scale test, Sharon had tested in the average range, which O'Connell also agreed with.

“That’s what I said earlier, yes. It’s a recommended test as part of a battery [of tests]. When I saw [Sharon] that was her score, but the important thing is her level of susceptibility during the interrogation,” O’Connell said.  

O’Connell said his ultimate opinion is that “[Sharon] is vulnerable and was in a coercive situation by her husband that put her at risk.” 

One of Marissa’s former Bangor teachers, Mary Wright, was called to testify. She said that she had had concerns about Marissa at school, which ultimately led her to call DHHS to report her suspicions. Wright also testified that she made several visits to the Carrillo home when Marissa was absent because she was concerned about the little girl. Wright said that at that point it was only early fall and Marissa had already missed two weeks of school. 

Wright testified about an interaction with Sharon Carrillo that she said remains stuck in her mind.

Marissa had been in school and sleeping for most of the morning, which led Wright to visit her as soon as she arrived.

Wright said initially she checked for sickness, but found none and was told by Marissa she didn’t feel sick. Wright also tested Marissa’s eyes before settling on the idea that maybe the child was being overmedicated. Wright reasoned if this were the case more food would help Marissa absorb the medications and made a plan for her to receive extra food at lunch.

Wright said that when Sharon came to pick Marissa up, she asked her about Marissa’s sleeping, she got no verbal response, only nods or head shakes, Wright said, before briefly breaking down crying. Wright said Marissa and Sharon were holding hands, and that eventually Sharon looked at her and said “we have to go,” before leading Marissa out of the school.   

“It stands in my mind because of how unique it was,” Wright said of the interaction. 

During cross-examination, Wright said she had never seen any bruises on Sharon during her time knowing the Carrillo family, though, under re-direct questioning by Shaw, it was also revealed that Wright never saw any bruises on Marissa, either. 

The school counselor at the Fairmount School during Marissa’s attendance, Kristin Tlili, took the stand after Wright, at first talking about the kind of student Marissa was. 

“Marissa was an incredible student, she was sweet, kind, thoughtful, she loved to read. That was kind of her happy place,” Tlili said. “[Marissa] was a talented writer, and she made friends easily. Her classmates liked her a lot. She was one of those students that you kinda remember because she was never defiant in any way. She was just an amazing little person.”

“A kind soul,” Attorney Chris MacLean said, a sentiment Tlili agreed with. 

Tlili took umbrage with assertions that had been made about Marissa having ADHD and harming herself, saying, “there was nothing consistent with that.”

Eventually, Tlili’s concerns grew strong enough that she reported them to DHHS in December of 2018 and had several follow-up conversations after a case was opened. 

Tlili said that prior to the report, she had interacted with Marissa a number of times.

“She would talk about what books she was reading, I don’t remember a lot of specific conversations about [Marissa’s] home, but what we did in the classroom,” Tlili said. “She always had a happy affect.”

Despite this, things changed with Marissa following the DHHS investigation. Tlili said she called Marissa down to her office to talk and Marissa wouldn’t answer any of her questions, which Tlili described as the opposite of how Marissa usually was.  

“I asked her if someone had told her not to speak to me and she nodded her head, yes,” Tlili said, noting it was cause for enough concern to make two attendance-based home visits. The first time she was unable to get through the building’s locked main door. The second time Tlili said she was about to fly out of state and felt she just couldn’t get on a plane without laying eyes on Marissa. 

That time when she visited the apartment was after the Carrillos had failed to bring Marissa to school following an alleged doctor’s visit, only Marissa never arrived. After traveling to the Carrillo home again, Tlili said the whole family happened to be coming out and that Julio had told her the appointment went longer. 

On cross-examination, Tlili admitted she had never seen bruises on Sharon Carrillo. On re-direct examination, she also said she had never seen bruises on Marissa. 

The trial of Sharon Carrillo continues Monday. 


Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com