Maine social worker testifies on day 8 of Sharon Carrillo trial

Tue, 12/17/2019 - 4:00pm

    BELFAST  — A Maine Department of Health and Human Services caseworker was the first witness called to the stand by Sharon Carrillo’s defense attorneys Dec. 17 in a Waldo County courtroom in Belfast.

    Shannon Meadows is a social worker with the Child Protective Services branch of DHHS and was assigned to investigate the Carrillo family after multiple reports were made to DHHS regarding possible abuse in the household. 

    Meadows, who has worked with the agency for eight years, said she got her bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Maine in 2001. 

    Meadows told jurors that she was assigned to investigate the case after the referral came to DHHS. She testified that the initial reports the agency received regarding Marissa were over truancy concerns and Marissa mimicking the behaviors displayed by her mother during Sharon’s outbursts.

    There were also multiple reports submitted by Bangor police, neighbors, school officials, and a housekeeper. These reports included concerns over possible domestic violence and Julio Carrillo’s reportedly controlling nature. 

    According to Meadows, she became involved in the case in late May 2017 and began her investigation by calling Sharon. Sharon reportedly did not answer the call but returned it a short time later. 

    One of Sharon’s defense attorneys, Laura Shaw, asked about a written summary review, referencing May 24, 2017. Meadows said that someone reported seeing Julio punch Marissa in the leg while yelling at her inside a vehicle. Julio denied the incident occurred when asked.

    When Meadows eventually met with Marissa in her school, Meadows said that Marissa “wouldn’t really speak” to her and that she was very shy and shaking at times.

    “[Marissa] said she wasn’t comfortable talking without her family there,” Meadows told jurors.

    When she met with the family at the family home, Meadows said the whole family was present, though she interviewed Julio and Sharon separately in the main floor bedroom where everyone slept. Despite being in separate rooms, Meadows said the apartment was small and the rooms were fairly close together.

    According to Meadows, Sharon told her that Marissa had many medical appointments and that’s why she was missing school. 

    When Julio was asked about Marissa being unable to attend field trips, something brought up by Marissa’s school, he told her Marissa didn’t want to go on some occasions, and other times she had doctor appointments that meant she could not go. Sharon also told Meadows that Marissa had “waking issues,” and that she was afraid Marissa would not be able to stay awake. 

    Following her meetings with Julio and Sharon, Meadows said she followed up with providers working with the family to see what information was available, something she said is standard practice. When Meadows asked Sharon to sign a medical release form, she refused to do so until she could first check with Julio. 

    During her testimony, Meadows also said Julio had told her he was in the process of adopting Marissa. When Meadows asked Julio about physical discipline, he denied any was taking place, instead telling Meadows that sometimes he would hold Marissa physically during her outbursts.

    Sharon’s father, Joseph Kennedy, was also contacted by Meadows during her investigation into reports of potential abuse. Meadows said Joseph Kennedy told her that Julio was controlling and would not let Sharon speak over the phone with him unless Julio was in the background listening.

    Meadows said she received a phone call from Julio on June 7, 2017, while still involved with the case. During the call Meadows said Julio reported concerns that Marissa had been harming herself that day, holding a knife to herself and saying she “didn’t want to be there anymore.”

    Julio also reportedly told Meadows that Sharon’s father and stepmother were sending Marissa messages about the trouble she was in and that Marissa would then get upset. 

    Meadows’ investigation lasted for 35 days. 

    At its conclusion, June 29, 2017, Meadows said she referred the Carrillos to a local agency. 

    During cross-examination, Maine Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said that during her investigation Sharon had denied she or Marissa were being abused by Julio, when asked directly by Meadows. 

    “In fact, Sharon Carrillo told you Julio Carrillo was a good man for her, right?” Macomber asked. 

    “Yes,” Meadows responded. 

    Maine State Police Detective Jason Andrews, who investigated the case and interviewed the Carrillos following Marissa’s death, was next called to the stand. 

    Sharon Carillo’s defense attorney, Chris MacLean, asked Andrews to confirm that some of the many texts that had been extracted from cell phones found in the Carrillo apartment contradicted events he had been able to get Sharon to admit to during his interrogations of her. 

    Andrews was asked to read a text received by one of the recovered phones Feb. 21, 2018, just four days before Marissa’s death. 

    According to Andrews, the text read: “Joe it’s Julio and Sharon, Marissa needs your help. She doesn’t want to listen to me or Sharon.”

    The text then purportedly asked Joe where he would like Sharon and Julio to leave Marissa, saying Marissa had four days to change and if not, “we’ll drop her off where you say.”

    Under cross-examination, Andrews said that he didn’t know the context of the texts he had been asked to read by the defense.

    AAG Macomber asked why Andrews had told Sharon there were no texts from her stepmother or father.

    Andrews said it had seemed “a little unbelievable” to him when Sharon told him about the texts. It was only later that Andrews learned of the text, and just yesterday, Dec. 16, that he had taken the time to read them. 

    The texts in question were created on Julio’s cell phone, though Julio reportedly told Sharon the text messages were sent from her stepmother and father. 

    Dr. Sarah Miller, a psychologist employed as the director of Maine’s state forensic service, was next called to the stand.

    MacLean asked her who was paying her to be in court. Miller said the state was, and that she had received no money from the defense for her testimony. 

    “You serve the court, right?” MacLean asked.

    “Yes,” Miller said. 

    Miller was asked to perform an assessment of criminal responsibility on Sharon Carrillo, which, she explained, involves assessing Sharon’s state of mind at the time of the offense.

    Miller said that involved gathering information about Sharon’s history and detailed questions about the time in question.

    Miller said she was looking for insanity or unsoundness of the mind and whether Sharon knew right from wrong.

    MacLean said that it was the State that asked Miller to look into these questions. Miller met with Sharon on four different occasions, for a total of  six hours. 

    Miller testified that she does not typically work for the defense or prosecutors; that she works for both. 

    According to Miller, she reviewed a recording of Dr. Michael O’Connell, who testified earlier in the trial that in his opinion Sharon was at risk of falsely confessing to a crime she didn’t commit.

    Miller also received the text messages in question, medical records from Pen Bay Medical Center, Eastern Maine Medical Center, Acadia, and Sweetser, among others. Miller also received relevant records for Sharon, including her school records. 

    Over the course of her investigation, Miller said Sharon was given a number of tests, including a personality test and a long series of questions that get a subject thinking about patterns and potential psychopathology. A PTSD assessment from the Veterans Association was also administered to Sharon. 

    Miller said Sharon tested consistently with other tests given to her over the last couple of years. Miller also said that “in all material respects” she agreed with the assessment of Dr. O’Connell, who determined that Sharon was at risk of giving a false confession. 

    MacLean asked whether there were characteristics of Sharon that caught Miller’s attention, to which Miller answered in the affirmative. 

    Miller said she had independently noted that what Sharon had told detectives may have been a false confession. Miller said there were several indicators that put Sharon at a higher risk for a false confession, including her low intellectual abilities.

    Miller said intellectual functioning affects the ability to navigate situations. 

    Miller said that there were psychological barriers to Sharon acting against her husband’s wishes and that Sharon displayed several symptoms of PTSD. When PTSD is combined with Sharon’s history of trauma, Miller said it would impair her judgment. 

    Acquiescent answers were also briefly touched on by Miller, who said that when viewing Sharon’s interview, that was a common response from Sharon. 

    “An acquiescent response style is a person’s willingness to say yes even if the true answer is something other than yes,” Miller said.

    Miller said those with a low intellectual ability are more likely to acquiesce to others especially those in authority roles.

    MacLean said that there is a large body of research that suggests that false confessions are more common than the average layperson would believe.

    MacLean said the jury has heard confessions where Sharon expressed remorse, saying she was a terrible mother and asked Miller whether any of that contradicts the possibility of a false confession, to which she responded, “not necessarily.”

    When asked how many times she has professionally said that someone may be involved in a false confession, Miller said: “This is the only case I can recall.”

    MacLean then asked Miller questions about her job, prompting Miller to tell jurors that a lot of her job is examining the hypotheses put forth by both the prosecution and defense; ‘are they things that could be plausible,’ Miller said. 

    “How would you characterize or quantify the strength of accuracy of your opinion?” MacLean asked.

    “I am very confident the risk factors [for a false confession] are there; I cannot say it was a false confession,” Miller said.

    When asked by MacLean if the hypothesis of a false confession was reasonable, she answered affirmatively. 

    Under cross-examination by AAG Donald Macomber, Miller was asked if she had been asked to conduct an exam to determine whether Sharon’s confession was fake.

    Miller said she was only [asked] to evaluate Sharon’s criminal responsibility or if Sharon had an abnormal condition at the time of Marissa’s death. 

    Miller said there was no major mental illness and that Sharon could understand the conduct against Marissa. Miller also said she found no condition of the mind that prevented Sharon from planning and participating in behavior. 

    AAG Macomber also reminded the jury that Miller was not testifying as an expert in domestic violence or false confessions. Miller also said that Sharon had told her that she had anger issues. 

    When asked by AAG Macomber, Miller reiterated that Sharon’s intellect scored in the 70s range of intelligence ranking and that people in that range are able to work and drive. 

    Miller also agreed with Macomber when he stated that there had not been a single reference that Sharon ever reported that she or Marissa were victims of domestic abuse prior to her being charged with knowing and intentional murder. 

    Macomber returned attention to the photo of Marissa and Sharon, both nude and kneeling with their hands above their head, asking whether Miller knew the context of the photo, which she did not.

    Miller agreed with Macomber’s assertion she didn’t know the context of the photo, with Miller then telling her that Julio had said that the respective photo had nothing to do with Sharon being abused. 

    Miller also agreed with Macomber that she never saw any bruises on Sharon Carrillo when reviewing the many photographs retrieved from the nine cameras analyzed in the case. 

    Macomber brought up the videos the jury had seen, of Julio following Sharon and Marissa around while they cried and yelled and asked him to stop.

    Macomber pointed out to Miller that during the video where Julio is following a crying and screaming Marissa, Sharon “casually” walks by and puts one of the younger children in their high chair.

    In another video, where Julio is videoing a screaming and crying Sharon, Macomber pointed out that Marissa can be seen kneeling in the background, which demonstrates Sharon did witness the abuse against her daughter at times.

    While the defense has yet to officially rest, it is expected that both sides will present their closing arguments to jurors today, though as of 2:40 p.m., Justice Murray had yet to return to the courtroom.

    If convicted of depraved indifference murder Sharon Carrillo will face a sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment.

    Erica Thoms can be reached at