Mark Cardilli Jr., listens to his attorney, Thomas Hallett, during his bail hearing on Aug. 25, 2023. Cardilli’s conviction was overturned last year but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court reversed that decision on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled Thursday that the manslaughter conviction of a Portland man who shot and killed his sister’s boyfriend in 2019 should not have been vacated.

The high court’s decision overturns a lower court ruling that vacated Mark Cardilli Jr.’s manslaughter conviction after finding that his trial lawyers failed to present an adequate argument that he was acting in self-defense. The ruling Thursday means Cardilli will not get a new trial and will likely have to return to prison.

Isahak Muse Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

Cardilli was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of 22-year-old Isahak Muse following a bench trial in 2019. He had initially been charged with murder, but Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills opted to convict him of the lesser crime of manslaughter. He was later sentenced to 11 years in prison, with 3 ½ years suspended. Cardilli served a portion of that sentence at the Windham Correctional Facility before the decision to vacate the conviction.

Cardilli’s appeals attorney, Thomas Hallett, had fought to overturn the conviction, arguing that his client’s original lawyers did not provide effective counsel because they did not argue strongly enough that Cardilli was justified in using deadly force against Muse because he believed his life was at risk.

In its ruling Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court said that the trial court “expressly found that the state had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that, if Cardilli believed that his use of deadly force was necessary under the circumstances, his belief was objectively unreasonable.”

And because the judge had convicted Cardilli of manslaughter instead of murder, that finding would have negated a self-defense argument, they said.


“Any inadequate advocacy by Cardilli’s trial counsel could not have had an adverse effect on his defense sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial,” the ruling said. “We therefore vacate the judgment of the post-conviction court and remand for entry of a judgment denying Cardilli’s petition.”

In their ruling, the justices said that Muse had been drinking on the day of the fight and that he never attempted to take the gun from Cardilli. The findings of the trial court regarding the level of threat posed by Muse preclude a finding that Cardilli reasonably believed that Muse was about to use deadly force against anyone in the household, they said.

“The trial court actually reached the question of whether Muse had used or was about to use deadly force during the confrontation and decided that the only deadly force involved was Cardilli’s,” the justices wrote.

Hallett said in an email that both he and Cardilli “are deeply disappointed by the Law Court’s decision” and are in the process of reviewing all options.

In a brief phone interview Thursday, Cardilli said that he will most likely have to return to prison, but is still trying to figure out when that will happen.

Attorney General Aaron Frey praised the ruling.


“The Law Court has confirmed what our office has said all along: that Mark Cardilli is guilty in the tragic, senseless death of Isahak Muse. While this victory cannot bring him back, we are proud to secure justice for Mr. Muse’s family and community,” Frey said in a written statement.

During his original trial, Cardilli admitted to killing Muse during at fight at the Cardilli family home in Portland, but said he was defending himself and his family. Muse had been visiting his girlfriend, Cardilli’s sister, and the conflict started as a disagreement over whether he could spend the night. During the fight, Cardilli ran to his room to retrieve a handgun from a safe.

Cardilli had already appealed the conviction to the state’s highest court once, arguing that he was justified in using deadly force against Muse, but the justices disagreed.

“Even if Cardilli had an actual belief that Muse was about to use deadly force by taking control of the gun that Cardilli brought into the chaos – a belief not asserted by Cardilli at trial – the court found that any such belief was objectively unreasonable,” Justice Ellen Gorman wrote in the court’s earlier  opinion.

Cardilli, through his attorney, then requested a post-conviction review, which was conducted by Superior Court Justice John O’Neil. That review focused more on whether Cardilli was offered effective counsel. O’Neil concluded that the trial lawyers failed to “vigorously argue” that he acted in self-defense and vacated the conviction, setting the stage for a new trial. The state then challenged that decision, bringing the matter once again to the Supreme Judicial Court.

After the decision to vacate the manslaughter conviction was announced, members of Portland’s Somali community held a news conference to express their disappointment. Mahmoud Hassan, then board president of the Somali Community Center of Maine, said Muse’s family suffered greatly after his death and had moved away from Portland.

Fatuma Hussein of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine described Muse as a “gentle soul” who from a young age helped care for his mother.

“He cared about human life,” she said. “Regardless of what background you came from you always deserved a life.”

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