More than 250 people gathered in Portland on Tuesday to protest a judge’s decision to set cash bail for a man charged with murder.

In the cold rain, Asli Muse wept as she spoke into a megaphone about her younger brother, who was shot and killed two months ago this week.

Asli Muse, sister of Isahak Muse, reads a statement from the Muse family to the crowd of protesters on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday. She said, “This is not what we call a system that works.” Press Herald photo by Gregory Rec

“Law enforcement and prosecutors keep saying, let the system work,” she said. “… What kind of system lets Mark Cardilli out to enjoy the beauty of freedom and the comfort of his family while Isahak has been buried in the cold ground?”

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

Cardilli was indicted by a grand jury and turned himself into police April 5. Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills decided last week to set his bail at $50,000 cash – a rare decision in a murder case. Matt Nichols, one of his attorneys, said Cardilli was released from Cumberland County Jail on Monday.

The judge believed there was probable cause for a murder charge. But she also 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. State law allows a judge to set bail in a murder case unless the state proves those risk factors.

The prosecutors told the judge that they could not do so, but they argued Cardilli should still be held without bail because of the serious nature of his alleged crime. The defense team said he had strong ties to the area and no prior criminal record, and they submitted letters of support from Cardilli’s friends and family.

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

Gabobe Duale, right, holds a drawing of Isahak Muse outside the Cumberland County Courthouse on Tuesday during a protest of the pretrial release of Mark Cardilli Jr., who is charged with murder in Muse’s shooting death. Over 250 people gathered on the steps of City Hall in Portland and then marched to the courthouse. Cardilli was recently released from jail on a $50,000 cash bail. Press Herald photo by Gregory Rec

Her ruling sparked the protest Tuesday afternoon, and a crowd grew outside Portland City Hall despite cold and wet weather.

Some people held signs that referenced the fear of discrimination that has been present since the shooting. Within the first week of Muse’s death, Portland leaders attended a community meeting at a local mosque where people asked if the shooting by a white man was a hate crime against a black Muslim man.

“If roles were reversed, would Isahak get out on $50,000 bail???” one protest sign read.

Other posters referenced testimony from the bail hearing. Portland police Detective Jeffrey Tully described in court the sounds of an argument captured on a motion-activated camera outside the Cardilli home.

Tully said he identified one voice on the video clip as Mark Cardilli Sr., saying, “You need to get out.”

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

More than 250 people gathered on the steps of Portland City Hall on Tuesday to protest the release of Mark Cardilli Jr., who is charged with murder in the shooting death of Isahak Muse in March. Cardilli was recently released from jail on $50,000 cash bail. Press Herald photo by Gregory Rec

Dontavis Hines, 27, of South Portland held a sign bearing that question in bold letters. He equated the message to the last words of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died in New York after police officers put him in a choke hold: “I can’t breathe.”

“Black lives matter,” Hines said. “Why are you hurting me? Why are you hurting us? Why are you hurting black people? At the end of the day, the system, it’s tricky, but it was never designed to benefit people that look like me.”

The crowd stood on the steps of City Hall for nearly an hour, then marched to the Cumberland County Courthouse. Officers from the Portland Police Department directed traffic as they walked down the street. They chanted “We need answers” and “Justice for Isahak.” They observed a moment of silence outside the courthouse, and one man led the group in a prayer to end the gathering.

Mohamed Abdi, 28, of Portland was one of the people leading chants on the megaphones. He said he grew up with Muse and remembered him as a person who put others first. Now, the community needs to be the voice for Muse, he said.

“It’s up to us, the community and the people he grew up with, to voice what he can’t,” Abdi said.

Cardilli’s defense attorney said Tuesday that Cardilli has cooperated with the investigation and did not meet the legal standard to be held without bail.

“If they think that decision to be released on bail was racially based, I can’t change their perceptions, but I can tell you this: They are categorically, 100 percent wrong,” Nichols said.

Nichols also denied that discrimination has played any role in this case.

“I’ve not seen any evidence of that and have gotten to know the Cardillis,” he said.

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

The first example was Merrill Kimball, who claimed he acted in self-defense when he shot a man at a North Yarmouth bee farm in 2013. 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 also was set at $100,000 cash or real estate.

The next hearing in Cardilli’s case has not been scheduled. The details revealed so far in a police affidavit and testimony at the bail hearing have begun to create a picture of what happened and what both sides will argue in court.

The detective 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.

The affidavit describes a verbal and physical confrontation that followed between the five people in the house. At some point during the argument, Mark Cardilli went to his bedroom and came back with a gun. As the fight continued, Cardilli said Muse punched him in the nose. While Cardilli later told police he fired the gun into Muse’s chest in self-defense, a medical examiner reported that the fatal bullets hit the victim in the back.

At the bail hearing, the prosecutor honed in on the disparity between the forensic evidence and the version of events Cardilli gave to police. The defense focused on Cardilli’s right under state law to defend himself and his home with deadly force under certain circumstances.

In her public statement at the protest, Asli Muse rejected the idea that her brother was a stranger or a threat to the Cardilli family or home. As she struggled to read through tears the words typed on her cellphone, members of the crowd walked to her to hold her up.

“This is not what we call a system that works,” Muse said. “Our family will continue to fight for justice on behalf of Isahak and will not let the system fail him.”

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