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Courts and Crime

Caseworker Testifies In 2nd Day Of Carrillo Murder Trial

Today is the second day in the trial of Sharon Carrillo, who’s charged with depraved indifference murder for the abuse death of her 10-year-old daughter, Marissa Kennedy.

One of the witnesses who appeared in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast was a social worker who visited the Carrillo family two days before the young girl died. Jurors also heard a state police interview in which Carrillo talks about what happened.

Maine Public reporter Patty Wight spoke with All Things Considered host Nora Flaherty about what was learned about the case from today’s testimony.

Flaherty: Tell us about this social worker and why she was on the stand today.

Wight: Suzanne Webber currently works for a mental health agency in Augusta. But before that, for more than two decades, she worked for Home Counselors Inc., in Rockland, a social services agency that contracts with the state to work with families who come into the Child Protective Services system but aren’t deemed high risk and connect them with other support services.

And she was assigned to the Carrillo family?

Yes. She visited the family six times over the course of four months starting in Oct. 2017. And she only saw Marissa on two of those visits, but one of them was in Feb. 2018, just two days before she died. And Webber said that she did notice a bruise on Marissa’s face. She asked her about it and Marissa didn’t answer. She said that she appeared very sleepy. Her eyes were glassy, and she seemed to stare right through her, and Webber said she later noticed some bruises on Marissa’s arm. But Julio Carrillo, Marissa’s stepfather, said that she was self-harming, doing things like hitting herself against walls.

What did she make of that explanation?

In her notes from her visits, Webber described Julio Carrillo is having a pleasant and charming demeanor and she confirmed in court that she took what he said at face value. She also confirmed that she had reviewed state records on the family, and those records noted multiple police reports about fighting in the Carrillo home, where Julio was described as the aggressor, but he always blamed the arguments on his wife’s mental health issues. And Webber said that she did ask Sharon Carrillo about violence in the home during a visit when she was alone with her and that she said there weren’t any problems. And this question of domestic violence is really at the core of Sharon Carrillo’s defense, that she was also the victim of Julio Carrillo’s abuse. And her defense attorney Chris McLean stressed in court that victims of domestic violence don’t always disclose their abuse. To underscore that point, he asked Webber if Marissa had ever discussed abuse with her, and Webber’s answer was no, and then McClain said that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening and Webber replied correct.

This testimony really seems to underscore some of the issues that we have been hearing about child protective services after Marissa’s death.

The agency was under intense scrutiny following this and another child death a few months before. Reviews have identified issues with communication among the different providers who interact with families receiving services. There were also issues with training, and a report that was issued in October said that the state would evaluate whether it should shift all child welfare assessments to state caseworkers, instead of some of them being done by alternative response programs such as home counselors.

OK, and back to this trial, state prosecutors played a Maine State Police interview with Sharon Carrillo. Tell me about what you heard.

So in this interview, which was done just hours after Marissa died, the police are trying to find out what happens, and initially Sharon Carrillo says that her daughter went into the basement to watch a movie and a few hours later, Julio Carrillo went to check on her and found her on the floor in the furnace room with bruises and barely breathing. Sharon Carrillo says her daughter somehow hurt herself by falling from a chair or hitting a metal tank or maybe she got into the toolbox in the room, and she insists for a while that Marissa has a history of self harming. When police asked her about relationships in the family and whether she feels safe around her husband, she says yes, she feels safe, he’s never heard her, and she starts crying and says she would never hurt a child that badly. But Maine State Police interviewers keep probing, and in a subsequent interview, she does eventually admit that she and her husband abused of Marisa. That interview will be played Tuesday when the case resume. And of course, this confession is a key element of state prosecutors’ case. Defense intends to cast doubt on the confession, citing the abuse that Sharon Carrillo underwent, as well as her low IQ.

Originally published Dec. 9, 2019 at 6:08 p.m. ET.