Sharon Carrillo, on trial earlier this month for the murder of her 10-year-old daughter, holds her head in her hands as the judge and lawyers confer, and the jury deliberates. The cart, right, contains the state’s evidence, none of which directly linked Sharon to the murder. (Photo by Patrisha McLean)
Sharon Carrillo, on trial earlier this month for the murder of her 10-year-old daughter, holds her head in her hands as the judge and lawyers confer, and the jury deliberates. The cart, right, contains the state’s evidence, none of which directly linked Sharon to the murder. (Photo by Patrisha McLean)
The guilty verdict came just before Christmas in a Belfast courthouse. Domestic abuse victim Sharon Carrillo guilty of depraved indifference murder of her daughter, Marissa Kennedy, even though the only evidence linking her to the crime was a confession that was likely false and coerced from her husband and abuser, Julio Carrillo.

The trial, which I attended, lasted more than a week. Sharon’s guilty verdict came after a jury deliberation of less than six hours and was greeted by a storm of Facebook posts calling for her head.

Julio Carrillo, serving a prison sentence of 55 years, has maintained that Sharon was an all-in participant in the deadly beatings. It is his version of events to police detectives that Sharon said “yes” to more than 50 times when they interrogated her.

Thirty-three years ago in New York City, another domestic abuse victim, Hedda Nussbaum, did not intervene while her partner, Joel Steinberg likewise beat their child Lisa to death.

Nussbaum was vilified by some, but Gloria Steinem in her introduction to Nussbaum’s 2012 memoir, “Surviving Intimate Terrorism,” saw her as a victim of her batterer and also of a society that did not acknowledge what was going on behind many closed doors. She wrote that “trauma suffered by (mostly) women and children in domestic wars is more spirit-breaking than trauma suffered by (mostly) men in military wars.” If an intelligent, middle-class professional like Nussbaum [a book editor] could be “turned into an automaton” by the slow and steady increase of control by someone who presented as well as Joel Steinberg [a lawyer], “each of us could suffer some parallel fate.”

Steinberg served 16 years in jail for first degree manslaughter. Prosecutors dropped murder charges against Nussbaum, saying that she had been battered and brainwashed by Steinberg.

Maine State prosecutors showed no mercy for Sharon and today she is looking at spending the rest of her life in prison. (Sentencing is scheduled for February 7.)

How is it that with domestic violence homicide only increasing (up 33 percent in this country since 2017), the courts, police and general public in their actions in the Carrillo case seemed more blind to the truth and consequences of the scourge of domestic abuse than in Nussbaum’s day?

The answer might be that Nussbaum, looking like she just did 12 rounds in a boxing ring, was the stereotype of a battered woman.

Sharon, by contrast, had no visible bruises.

But there was plenty of court evidence that she was controlled by Julio, and people need to finally understand that the emotional abuse these guys dish out is every bit as damaging as physical beatings.

In Sharon’s court case, to every witness who testified to classic signs of domestic abuse, the prosecutors cynically or ignorantly kept coming back to how she had no visible bruises and did not disclose what was going on in her house to people she hardly knew.

It is indeed shocking and horrible that Sharon did not intervene while her daughter was being beaten to death. But this is “a child in a woman’s body” according to her stepmother; pregnant and basically imprisoned in her house with an infant, toddler and adolescent; with no money or nearby support network. It is within the realm of possibility that the terrorist living with her would so bend her mind that she would do whatever he wanted her to do.

Ten years ago in the same Waldo County Superior Court, a not-guilty verdict for murder was delivered to domestic abuse victim Amber Cummings. The husband/father in that family, court documents revealed, was a “dirty bomb”–plotting, child porn–watching Nazi, but probably no more depraved than Joel Steinberg or Julio Carrillo.

Amber killed her husband to protect their child. Protection of children is what usually pushes women to get free of their abusive partner. (Men are victims of domestic abuse as well, but I am focusing on women here because they are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic violence.)

The key extenuating circumstance to override the maternal protective instinct with Sharon seems to be her IQ, pegged by the defense as borderline mentally retarded. (A judge acknowledged her developmental disabilities but ruled she was nonetheless competent to stand trial.) With Hedda, it seems to be the influence of crack cocaine.

Sharon Carrillo’s 10-day trial showed how the Department of Health and Human Services, the family’s social worker, police and Searsport Elementary School failed Marissa by not acting on what is clear now to all as obvious child abuse.

But Sharon and Marissa were failed also when no action was taken about the equally obvious domestic abuse.

If some kind of intervention had freed Sharon from Julio, a little girl who was adored by every person who knew her except for her stepfather might still be alive. And a mentally challenged 34-year-old who had the misfortune to hook up with a monster might not have her firstborn dead and be looking at spending the rest of her life behind bars.

Neighbors, school officials, a housekeeper, a pediatrician and others testified about Sharon and Marissa walking with their heads down, skirting outsiders and remaining silent while Julio did all the talking. There was testimony about Julio calling Sharon a cunt; laughing as he repeatedly stepped on the accelerator of their car while she was outside trying to buckle their baby in a car seat; and kicking her in the back of the leg causing her to fall, once with groceries in her arms, and another time when she was holding their baby.

Jurors saw a photo of Sharon and Marissa, both kneeling on a tile floor, naked with their arms raised high (according to Sharon, commenting about Marissa, the tile floor was so the carpet would not get bloody, and their arms were held up so as not to be able to deflect blows), and videos of Julio verbally terrorizing Sharon and then Marissa in the same sadistic, chilling way.

Joe Kennedy is Sharon’s father. He and his wife Roseann raised Marissa for the first eight years of her life in New York state, Sharon also living with them. Julio moved Sharon and Marissa to Maine in 2016.

When the Carrillos were evicted from their apartment in Bangor, they moved into a waterfront Stockton Springs condominium bought by Joe and Roseann for their retirement.

Joe was listed as emergency next-of-kin to both Marissa and Sharon.”All they would have had to say to me,” he said about the many witnesses on the stand, “is ‘There’s a suspicion of domestic violence or abuse of a child,’ and I would have been down there in six hours.”

Police in Bangor responded to at least six calls about the Carrillos between December 17, 2016, and June 11, 2017. Police stated that they saw no signs of abuse. Police were summoned to the Stockton Springs home three times for 911 hangups. Stockton Springs neighbors testified they made many calls to police and DHHS about suspected child and domestic abuse, but there was never any follow-up.

It defies common sense

When Joe Kennedy heard from a police officer soon after Marissa was pronounced dead that Sharon was complicit in the murder, he “felt intense rage” at his daughter.

But then people in his community started confiding in him about their own experiences with domestic abuse, as happened to me in Camden when my ex-husband’s arrest for domestic violence was blasted across the media.

A coworker of Kennedy’s told him she was so afraid of her husband that she could not escape from him. Kennedy, a former programmer and engineer at IBM, said, “Because I’m a logical person, that didn’t make sense to me.”

But as he heard from more and more people about the paralyzing effects of being terrorized on a daily basis by someone who knows you really well, “I started to get a clearer picture of domestic violence and my attitude toward Sharon completely changed.”

Christopher MacLean, Sharon’s defense attorney with co-counsel Laura Shaw, told me, “The thing about domestic abuse is it defies common sense, and is the opposite of what you expect to be true.

“If someone hurts you physically and emotionally, the common reaction is to distance yourself from that person. If someone punched me and a police officer asked me what happened, I would tell him. And if the police officer asked me what I wanted to happen to the person who did it, I would say I want him arrested. A victim of domestic abuse will often conceal the truth to protect their abuser.”

He said the end result of the abuse for Sharon “is far more extreme” than in any other domestic abuse case he has represented in 23 years, but the “principles and dynamics” of abuse and abuser are the same, and they “explain how what happened, happened.”

Joe said that when Sharon introduced them to Julio, 18 years her senior, “We thought, ‘All right, she’s found somebody that will probably make a good match for her with some supervision.’ He had a disability also, but was better functioning than her.” He was polite to them, seemed kind to Sharon, and “had a good relationship with his mother and sisters.”

Marissa “was ecstatic to have a real daddy. I used to get everything she made for Father’s Day.”

When Julio moved his family to Maine, contact grew sporadic, with Julio changing phone numbers seemingly every few weeks, Joe said, “We thought, ‘Well they’re trying to set up their own life and have some independence.’”

He recalled their last visit together in August of 2018: “At dinner at the Texas Roadhouse in Bangor my wife asked Marissa a question and Marissa looked to Julio for the answer. [Roseann] told her, ‘I didn’t ask Julio, I asked you.’”

But, “Neither one of us was informed enough to realize this control was something that should be looked into further. And we never in a million years thought he would hurt them physically.”

The complaints he received about noise in their condo? “I figured that was just normal arguing between a husband and wife.

“You don’t pick up on the signs until you know the signs.”

Joe received the last noise complaint call on the morning of February 25, 2018. “I called Julio and I said, ‘Julio you have got to stop being so controlling.’ He said, ‘I am NOT controlling.’” A few hours later Joe learned that Marissa was dead.

Joe said that when Marissa lived in New York with them and they took a family trip to the Stockton Springs condo, she “would rush by me when I opened the door. She would run to the railing and look out at the ocean, and the blueberry patch out to the mountain, and have a smile on her face from ear to ear.”

The condominium unit is sold. While Joe, Roseann and Marissa once toured Maine lighthouses — Fort Point was Marissa’s favorite — Joe and Roseann said what will bring them back to the state now is touring the monuments to Marissa’s memory erected by the many, many people whose hearts she touched in her decade on earth.

There is a “buddy bench” at Cascade Park in Bangor, a stocked bookshelf inside the Stockton Springs town library, and personalized bricks on the Memorial Bridge in Belfast and at a cemetery in Augusta.

Lighthouse Pizza & Pub in Stockton Springs has set a goal of gathering 200 Teddy bears by January 3. Each will have a blue ribbon with the initials MK and be donated to the Maine State Police headquarters in Augusta to soothe children who, according to Joe, “were in an accident or domestic abuse situation.”

He and Roseann contributed stuffed animals to that. And between the long days of their daughter’s criminal trial for the murder of their granddaughter, they shopped for Marissa’s favorite things — Lego sets, stuffed animals and books — and brought them to Lighthouse Pizza’s holiday toy drive.

They wanted to see to it, he said, “that some folks will have a better Christmas than we will.”