A judge will allow a Portland man charged with murder to be freed on $50,000 cash bail while the case against him proceeds in court.

Mark Cardilli Jr. has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in the death of Isahak Muse. Cardilli, 24, told police he was defending himself when he shot and killed Muse during an altercation at the Cardilli family’s Milton Street home in the early hours of March 16. Muse, 22, was his younger sister’s boyfriend.

A vigil for Isahak Muse was held in Portland on March 19, three days after he was shot to death during an altercation at 107 Milton St. Photo by Awo Muse

Cardilli appeared Tuesday at the Cumberland County Courthouse for a bail hearing. Family members of both Cardilli and Muse filled the courtroom, and the defendant wore a suit and metal ankle restraints.

Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills spent more than an hour deliberating in chambers after both sides made their arguments. She ultimately set bail at the dollar amount the defense attorneys indicated the Cardilli family could pay.

The judge said she believed there was probable cause for a murder charge. But she said the prosecutors did not present any evidence that Cardilli would not show up to court, that he poses a threat to the community or that he would be likely to commit new crimes if released.

She sealed the address where Cardilli will be living, and as part of his bail conditions she prohibited him from contacting Muse’s family or possessing guns. He will be subject to a curfew and electronic monitoring.

There was little reaction to her ruling, and neither family commented to reporters. Cardilli shook defense attorney Matt Nichols’ hand as he left the courtroom. He has been in custody at the Cumberland County Jail since his indictment and arrest April 5. He returned to jail Tuesday afternoon but could be released as early as Wednesday, Nichols told reporters.

Nichols also said there were some acts of vandalism at the Cardilli family home over the weekend, which has added to their stress. But he said the family is glad they will be reunited.

“This is exactly the way we envisioned it going,” Nichols said after the hearing. “No surprises for us.”

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin declined to comment on the judge’s decision.

It is rare for a defendant in a murder case to be released on bail. While the Maine Attorney General’s Office could not provide statistics Tuesday on the number of similar cases in which bail had been set, a spokesperson pointed to two examples in the last five years. The office prosecuted 16 murder or manslaughter cases in 2018.

The first example was Merrill Kimball. Kimball claimed he acted in self defense when he shot a man at a North Yarmouth bee farm in 2013, but a jury convicted him of murder. Kimball was allowed to post $100,000 worth of property as bail while he awaited trial. Now 76, he is serving the mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years.

The second example was Derrick Dupont. Dupont, 28, was charged with murder and manslaughter in a 2017 fatal shooting, and he pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge Monday in Kennebec County. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. At that hearing, he told the judge he feared for his life and the lives of others that night. In his case, bail was also set at $100,000 cash or real estate.

In Cardilli’s case, the prosecutors told the judge that they could not show he was at risk of not appearing in court or committing other crimes while out on bail. But they argued he should still be held in jail without bail because of the seriousness and circumstances of his alleged crime.

“(Muse) was an unarmed man who was not threatening deadly force, who was not secretly in the house,” Robbin said. “He stayed past their curfew, but that didn’t make him a trespasser. It didn’t make him a burglar. And it didn’t give Mark Cardilli Jr. the right to shoot him in the back.”

The defense team argued Cardilli had strong ties to the area and no prior criminal record, and they submitted letters of support from Cardilli’s friends and family. They also told the judge that Cardilli should be released because he was acting in defense of his family’s premises when he fired the gun.

“At that point, because there is no indication that Mr. Muse is going to cease assaulting Mr. Cardilli or is going to leave the residence peacefully, deadly force … is warranted,” defense attorney Sarah Churchill said. “Mr. Cardilli had no reasonable need to retreat in his own home. The statute plainly lays that out.”

The sole witness at the hearing was the lead investigator from the Portland Police Department. Detective Jeffrey Tully wrote the affidavit that described a chaotic family argument before the shooting, and he recounted those details and others Tuesday.

Tully said Muse was dating Chelsey Cardilli, who was 17 at the time, but she was not allowed to see him as a condition of juvenile probation. It is not clear why she was on probation, and such cases are confidential. Chelsey Cardilli asked if her boyfriend could visit the house on the evening of March 15, but her father said no. When Muse did come over shortly after 10 p.m., Mark Cardilli Sr. saw him on a security camera. The family confronted Muse, but ultimately the parents allowed him to stay until 1 a.m. At that time, Muse was still at the house and refused to leave. Tully’s affidavit describes a verbal and physical confrontation that followed between the five people in the house.

The questions from both sides gave a window into their strategies.

The prosecutor asked Tully about the forensic evidence, including an autopsy report and ballistics from the scene. Cardilli told police he fired the gun into Muse’s chest while they were facing each other, but the state’s chief medical examiner reported that the fatal bullets hit the victim in the back. His written affidavit also included the an evidence technician’s report that blood splatter was low to the floor, which suggested that Muse was not standing when he was shot in the back.

Robbin, the assistant attorney general, also said Cardilli went to his room twice to get his gun, the first time deciding against it. She asked the police detective where Cardilli’s cellphone was at the time, and he told her it was on the desk in the defendant’s bedroom.

“He chose the gun in the safe over the phone on his desk?” she asked.

“Yes,” Tully responded.

The defense attorneys focused on the way Muse came over uninvited by the Cardilli parents and the violence that was reportedly part of the argument. Nichols pointed in particular to a photograph of Cardilli from that night with dried blood on his nose, which he said came from being punched by Muse. Tully testified that Suzanne Cardilli, the mother, tried to call 911, but Muse either knocked the phone out of her hand or tried to take it from her.

Nichols also asked Tully about the defendant’s actions following the shooting, when he called 911 and agreed to be interviewed multiple times by police.

“When the first officers responded, he was waiting on the front lawn for them,” Nichols said. “And he didn’t try to hide anything. He told them that he shot Mr. Muse and that it was because he was pounding on his father.”

Tully also testified about one piece of evidence that was not mentioned in the affidavit — video clips from the motion-activated camera outside the Cardilli house. He described a clip of Suzanne Cardilli leaving to call 911 from a neighbor’s house, which captured the sounds of an argument.

The detective said he identified one voice as Mark Cardilli Sr., saying, “You need to get out.”

And then he identified Muse’s voice saying, “Why are you hurting me? Why are you hurting me?”

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