Isahak Muse would have turned 23 this week.

Instead, the man who shot and killed him will be on trial.

Mark Cardilli Jr. is charged with murder. Muse was his younger sister’s boyfriend. Cardilli, now 25, told police he was defending himself during their fatal altercation at his family’s Portland home in March. Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills will hear evidence in the case starting Monday at the Cumberland County Courthouse, and she will ultimately decide the verdict because Cardilli waived his right to a jury.

Mark Cardilli Jr., in court in May, waived his right to a jury trial in the shooting death of his sister’s boyfriend. Cardilli, who says he acted in self-defense, is charged with murder in the death of Isahak Muse in March. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine law does allow the use of deadly force in self-defense and defense of premises, and those arguments are expected to take a central role in the trial. Generally, people have a broader right to use deadly force in their own home than outside of it, but experts said the legal analysis will still be layered and complex.

“The question is, when can you use deadly force in your own home?” said Thea Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law.

Defense attorney Matt Nichols has previously said Cardilli opted for a bench trial because a judge is better positioned to understand the laws related to self-defense in Maine. He declined to say Friday whether Cardilli will testify in his own defense.


“There’s not a whole lot of factual disagreements about what happened,” Nichols said in October. “There are some, but not a whole lot. But the legal issues in a case like this get a little bit tricky.”

The Maine Attorney General’s Office does not comment on pending cases.

Cardilli shot Muse in the early hours of March 16. Court documents have created an outline of the altercation in the Cardilli family’s Riverton home that night.

Muse was dating Chelsey Cardilli, who was 17 at the time. When she asked if he could visit the house that night, her father said no. But when Muse arrived, the parents allowed him to stay until 1 a.m. When he did not leave at that time, a verbal and physical confrontation began among the five people in the house.

At some point during the argument, Cardilli went to his bedroom and came back with a gun. As the fight continued, Cardilli said Muse punched him in the nose. While Cardilli later told police he fired the gun into Muse’s chest, a medical examiner reported that the fatal bullets hit the victim in the back.

A grand jury indicted Cardilli on the murder charge nearly three weeks later. The time between the shooting and the arrest caused concern for members of Portland’s Muslim community and prompted a meeting with city officials at a local mosque.


Deering High School junior Isahak Muse drives on Portland senior Dan Kane in a February 2014 basketball game. Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cardilli pleaded not guilty in April, and Mills allowed him to be released on $50,000 cash bail in May. Supporters of the Muse family protested her decision in downtown Portland. The victim’s sister wept as she read a statement into the megaphone.

“This is not what we call a system that works,” Asli Muse said. “Our family will continue to fight for justice on behalf of Isahak and will not let the system fail him.”

The parties met in court last week to argue the final pretrial motions. One issue that could come up at trial is a diary reportedly written by Chelsey Cardilli in the days after the shooting. The defense wants to admit pages from her writings, but it is not clear what role they might play in the case.

An attorney representing Chelsey Cardilli had previously asked the judge to return it to the young woman, but Mills said the court would hold the original through the trial.

“Given that Chelsey never gave permission or authorization to anyone to have control or possession over her most private property – her journal – she asks the court to return it to her as it is private and personal and written during a time of intense pain and grief,” Gina Yamartino, Chelsey Cardilli’s attorney, wrote in the motion.

Yamartino did not respond to a call for comment Friday.


It is not yet clear who will be called to testify at the trial.

Maine law does allow people to use deadly force in defense of themselves or their homes, but the requirements for these defenses under the law are nuanced. For example, the law allows a person to use deadly force in his or her home if another person is committing a criminal trespass, and if that other person is committing or is likely to commit another crime.

“When you’re in your home, you have a much broader right to use deadly force,” Johnson, the law professor, said. “The big issue is whether somebody is allowed to be in your home. … It’s not like you have the right to attack anybody that is in your home.”

Defense attorney Scott Hess said the state has the burden to prove that the self-defense argument would not apply.

“The prosecutor has to show that the person’s belief was not only unreasonable but that it was reckless, that it was a gross deviation,” Hess said.

Hess said he considered using the same defenses in the recent case of Derrick Dupont. Dupont, now 29, shot and killed 41-year-old James Haskell in 2017. The incident took place at Dupont’s family home in West Gardiner, and Haskell was reportedly pounding on the door after being told to leave earlier in the night. Dupont ultimately decided to plead guilty to manslaughter, which is a lesser but included offense under murder, and he is serving a prison sentence of 10 years.

“There is always an element of risk going to trial as to whether your client will be found not guilty or convicted,” Hess said.

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