A white Portland, Maine, man who claimed self-defense after shooting his sister’s unarmed black boyfriend in the back was convicted of manslaughter on Friday in a case that included allegations of racism, Islamophobia and white privilege.
Although a grand jury indicted 25-year-old Mark Cardilli Jr. on murder charges, Maine Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills found Cardilli guilty of manslaughter in the death of Isahak Muse, a Somali Muslim. Muse had been dating Cardilli’s sister Chelsea when Mark shot Muse in their parents’ home in April during a late-night altercation, according to the Press-Herald.
On March 17, Mark had been living with his parents after serving in the Army for five years when he discovered Muse in his family home. Chelsea, 17, had asked her parents if Muse could visit but when they said no, Muse showed up anyway. Mark Cardilli Sr. eventually agreed that Muse could stay until 1 a.m. But when Muse stayed past the limit, Cardilli Jr. confronted Muse, resulting in an altercation with the entire family.
During the ensuing argument, Cardilli Jr. went upstairs and retrieved a gun. Instead of calling 911, Cardilli shot Muse twice, killing the 22-year-old. A home security camera caught part of the confrontation, including Muse asking: “Why are you hurting me?”
Those would be his last words.
Cardilli Jr. would later claim that he acted in self-defense because Muse was throwing punches but during the trial, the county medical examiner concluded that Muse was shot in the back. During the five-day trial, Cardilli’s defense invoked Maine’s state law on using deadly force in a person’s own home by alleging that Muse was technically an “intruder” who was guilty of criminal trespassing. The defense noted that a juvenile court had banned Chelsea from seeing Muse because he was a “bad influence.”
Defense attorneys unsuccessfully tried to block Chelsea’s testimony that her brother had made racist and bigoted statements, including his past remarks that Somalis were gang members, Muslims are terrorists and that police shoot black people shot because they deserve it. Cardilli Jr. denied the allegations after waiving his right to a jury trial, opting instead for a judge to decide the case.
“The state did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s beliefs, which led to his conduct, were objectively unreasonable,” Mills said during her in-court summary. “That is what the law calls imperfect self-defense.”
The judge said that she found the man who killed Muse more credible than his sister, partly because she continued to date Muse, defying a juvenile court order. Mark Jr., on the other hand, cooperated with police.
“Rules, including those imposed by the juvenile justice system, meant nothing to her, and she ignored them,” Mills wrote. “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 [the] defendant.”
Muse’s family and others in the Somali community had hoped for a murder conviction and said one observer yelled to the defense attorneys: “Congratulations, you just got a murderer off!”
“We’re not happy with the verdict because he did kill my brother in cold blood,” said Awo Muse, one of the victim’s sisters. “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.
Cardilli Jr. faces a minimum of four years in prison and a maximum of 30 years.
A sentencing date has not been set.