Maine Supreme Court reverses decision to grant new trial in shooting of Black man

 April 12, 2024

Maine's Supreme Court reversed a lower court order on Thursday that granted a new trial to a Portland man convicted of manslaughter for shooting his sister's boyfriend during an argument in 2019. 

A judge granted a new trial to Mark Cardilli last year after determining that he received inadequate counsel from his attorneys, and he was released on bail.

That decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, and its reversal may mean that Cardilli has to go back to jail and finish his original sentence of seven and a half years.

His appeals attorney Thomas Hallett said he and Cardilli were "deeply disappointed" by the reversal and were reviewing Cardilli's legal options.

Hate crime?

Cardilli shot Isahak Muse, 22, when Muse would not leave the family home when he was asked to do so because he wanted to stay overnight with his girlfriend, Cardilli's then 17-year-old sister.

Cardilli testified during his trial that Muse became angry and assaulted Cardilli when he was told by the girl's parents to leave the house and that he feared for his life.

Because Muse was Black and a Muslim, his shooting was seen by some in the Portland community as a hate crime.

By all accounts, though, the shooting was part of a family dispute and was not motivated by Muse's race or religion.

"Objectively unreasonable"

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.”

In addition, because the lower court opted for a manslaughter conviction rather than murder, it negates the self-defense argument, the court 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.”

The lower court found that Cardilli did not have reason to believe that Muse would use deadly force.

Deadly force not justified

Muse never tried to take the gun from Cardilli, for example.

“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.

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