A Portland man faces up to 30 years in prison after being found guilty of manslaughter Friday for shooting his sister’s boyfriend.

Mark Cardilli Jr., 25, admitted shooting 22-year-old Isahak Muse during a family fight in March, but said on the witness stand that he was defending himself and his home. A grand jury had indicted him on a murder charge.

He left the courtroom in handcuffs Friday morning after Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills announced her verdict.

“Mr. Cardilli is in custody,” Mills said before she left the bench.

The trial lasted for a week this month. Generally, Maine law gives people a broader right to use deadly force in their own homes than outside of them, but experts have said that legal analysis is complicated. Cardilli waived his right to a jury, so Mills heard the evidence and reached the verdict herself. She wrote a 52-page decision, but only summarized her findings in the courtroom.

Mills said the state did not prove that Cardilli was not acting in self-defense, but the judge found that his belief that he needed to shoot Muse was not reasonable.

Her conclusions supported neither a guilty verdict, nor a full acquittal. The result was a conviction on the lesser offense of manslaughter.

“The state did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s beliefs which led to his conduct were objectively unreasonable,” the judge said. “That is what the law calls imperfect self-defense.”

Cardilli faces a minimum sentence of four years in prison because he used a firearm to cause the death of another person. The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 30 years. A sentencing date has not been set.

Awo Muse, center, older sister of Isahak Muse, who was killed by Mark Cardilli Jr., speaks with supporters following the manslaughter verdict reached Friday morning at the Cumberland County Courthouse. Sarah Obare is on the left.  Jill Brady/Staff Photographer 

More than 45 people sat in the benches for the verdict, and an overflow crowd sat on the metal seats in the hallway. The courtroom was tense and hushed even after Mills closed the door behind her.

The Muse family stood quietly and soon left the room with the prosecutors. Chelsey Cardilli, who had been dating Muse at the time of his death, sat behind them and apart from her relatives. The defendant’s mother, Suzanne Cardilli, knocked a box of tissues on the floor as she steadied herself on the handrail.

As guards led Cardilli out of the courtroom, he passed his family members.

“I love you,” Cardilli said. “You know what to do. You know what to do.”

Isahak Muse Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

People lingered in the courtroom and the hallway, speaking in hushed conversations or huddling over typed copies of the judge’s verdict. A young woman sobbed into her cell phone. When the defense attorneys walked down the hallway, a young man called after them.

“Congratulations,” the man said. “You just got a murderer off.”

Awo Muse, one of the victim’s sisters, told reporters the family wanted to see a murder conviction, but were glad Cardilli would go to prison.

“We’re not happy with the verdict because he did kill my brother in cold blood,” Muse said. “At the end of the day, my brother is not going to come back.”

She thanked the people who supported her family during the trial. Muse described her brother as a helpful person with a bright smile.

“They tried to portray him in a bad manner, but you can tell how many people were there that came out for Isahak, that loved him,” Muse said. “He will never be forgotten.”

Attorneys for both sides said Friday that they still needed to read the judge’s decision in depth.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said the prosecutors knew manslaughter was a possibility in this case, but she had believed Isahak’s death was a murder.

“I believe this was murder, but we have to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt,” Robbin said. “What we did prove beyond a reasonable doubt was that his belief that he had to use a gun was unreasonable, and that was always our view. If you’re going to carry a gun in the state of Maine, you should know what the law is. You can’t shoot somebody because they’ve overstayed their welcome, and I do believe that’s what Mark Cardilli thought. I don’t believe he thought he was in fear of his life.”

Defense attorneys Matt Nichols and Sarah Churchill said they would consider an appeal after sentencing. They said the Cardilli family did not have any comment for the media on the case.

“I’m surprised because the state didn’t ask for a lesser included offense, although it is in the court’s prerogative to go ahead and make that decision,” Nichols said. “It’s not something that either side addressed at opening or closing arguments.”

Churchill said Cardilli was “distraught.”

“He doesn’t feel that the judge’s decision was correct,” she said. “He is prepared to take the next steps to continue to fight the case.”

The judge’s lengthy decision summarized the testimony of more than two dozen witnesses. Three of the four Cardillis – mother, daughter and son – took the witness stand. Mills also watched videos of police interviews, as well as videos from Chelsey Cardilli’s cellphone and a surveillance system at the family’s Riverton home. The camera pointed to the driveway but captured audio from inside the house in the moments before and after the shooting. In one clip, Muse is yelling, “Why are you hurting me?” In another, Cardilli identified the sound of himself racking the slide of his gun.

The fatal shooting took place in the early hours of March 16. Muse was dating Chelsey Cardilli, who was 17 at the time. She testified that she had been involved in the juvenile justice system, and the court had prohibited her from seeing her boyfriend. Her parents often told her she could not see Muse, but then allowed him to visit and stay the night in the family’s home. Her brother had been in the Army for five years and had recently moved home at the end of his commitment.

That night, Chelsey Cardilli asked her father if Muse could visit, and Mark Cardilli Sr. said no. When Muse arrived at the house anyway, her family agreed he could stay until 1 a.m. But he did not leave at that time, and a verbal and physical confrontation began between the five people in the house.

Muse was not armed, but Cardilli ran to his room and retrieved his handgun from a safe.

The defendant testified that he did not call 911 because he did not know how long the police would take to respond, and because he thought Muse would leave once he saw the weapon. Instead, he said, his sister’s boyfriend started punching him in the face.

“Why did you shoot?” Nichols asked during the trial.

“The reason why I shot was because I feared – I did not know how many more punches I could take – I thought if I dropped the gun, lost the gun, Mr. Muse would take it and turn it on me and my family,” Cardilli said.

Cardilli first told police he fired into Muse’s chest, but forensic experts for both sides agreed that the shots hit Muse at contact range in the back. The defense attorney theorized in his closing argument that Muse twisted when the first shot grazed his eyebrow, so the second and third shots hit him from behind. The prosecutors suggested Muse was trying to turn and run, and a possible bullet defect in the floor suggested Muse was falling or on the ground when Cardilli shot him. Robbin grilled Cardilli about that forensic and ballistic evidence.

“You don’t remember shooting him in the back when he tried to run after the first graze wound?” the prosecutor asked.

“He never turned to run,” Cardilli said.

“But you shot him in the back,” she said.

“As the evidence shows,” he answered.

Mills did not explain which testimony she found to be most important or why exactly she did not believe Cardilli’s use of self-defense was reasonable. But she did indicate which witnesses or evidence she did not consider credible.

Mills wrote that she agreed that the two men were facing each other at the time of the first shot, and she did not give any significance to the defect in the floor. The defense attorneys had criticized investigators for not testing that mark for lead residue, saying they could not be certain it came from a bullet.

Chelsey Cardilli had also testified that her brother made racist statements about Somali people, Muslim people and people of color. The Cardillis are white, and Muse was a black Muslim man. The defendant denied making those statements during his testimony.

Mills wrote she did not consider much of Chelsey Cardilli’s testimony to be credible, and she criticized the state for not seeking a search warrant for the teenager’s cellphone.

“The court has placed no weight or significance on the testimony of Chelsey Cardilli unless her testimony was corroborated by other credible testimony or by the exhibits,” Mills wrote. “The level of dysfunction in her relationship with her parents and in her life in general in March 2019 cannot be overstated. Rules, including those imposed by the juvenile justice system, meant nothing to her, and she ignored them. Yet the state asks the court to conclude that she will comply with the rule that she must tell the truth when under oath. Her demeanor on the witness stand was that of a witness striving to answer questions in a way she deemed prejudicial to defendant.”

The judge did say she found Mark Cardilli Jr. to be credible, in part because he cooperated with law enforcement.

Mills allowed Cardilli to be freed from jail on $50,000 bail while the case was pending. But she ordered him taken into custody Friday, and he was booked at the Cumberland County Jail later that day. Outside the courthouse, he still wore his suit when the guards led him to the transport bus.

The crowd of observers broke up slowly. One of the last people to leave was Akram Abdullahi, who waited on the sidewalk outside the courthouse. He said he helped organize a protest in May when the judge set bail for Cardilli, as well as a fundraising dinner in Muse’s name on the eve of the trial. He said he knows Maine to be a welcoming place, but this case divided the community on racial lines.

“This is a love story gone wrong,” he said. “Very, very wrong.”

Staff Writer Ed Murphy contributed to this report.

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