Mark Cardilli Jr. Credit: Courtesy of the Portland Police Department

PORTLAND, Maine — The murder trial of Mark Cardilli Jr. began Monday with an at-times tearful testimony from his sister, who spoke of a strained family relationship in the months before her brother allegedly shot and killed Isahak Muse in March.

Answering questions from the state prosecuting attorney, Chelsey Cardilli described a family rift between her father and 25-year-old brother who disapproved of her relationship with the 22-year-old Muse, the Portland-born son of Somali immigrants.

“Once [Mark] went into the Army, that’s when everything changed between us,” Chelsey Cardilli testified, marking the first statements of the trial of her brother Cardilli Jr., who is accused of fatally shooting Muse at the Cardilli family home on Milton Street during the early hours of March 16. Cardilli Jr. has pleaded not guilty, and claimed the act was in self-defense.

Cardilli Jr. waived his right to a jury, letting Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills determine the verdict in a weeklong trial in the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. Cardilli Jr.’s defense attorney has said that a judge is better equipped to understand state self-defense laws than a jury.

Chelsey Cardilli’s testimony on Monday described the night of the fatal altercation in detail. She also shared months of text messages between her and her father, who struggled to enforce parameters for the relationship between his then-17-year-old daughter and her older boyfriend.

Chelsey Cardilli and Muse — whom she called “Ikey” — had been dating since late spring 2018. He had frequently visited Chelsey Cardilli at her home during 2018 and early 2019 — three or four times a week according to Chelsey Cardilli — and stayed the night, often against the wishes of her father.

The testimony also featured video clips of moments from the night of the shooting, including one of a conversation between Muse and Suzanne Cardilli — Mark and Chelsey’s mother — that brought Chelsey Cardilli to tears on the stand. Chelsey Cardilli described her mother as having “become close” with Muse, and that their conversation that night was “funny and serious at the same time.”

Suzanne Cardilli had given permission for Muse to stay the night of the shooting, according to Chelsey Cardilli, which Mark Cardilli had disputed. The Cardilli men told Muse he had to leave and he refused. Muse, who lived in South Portland, had been dropped off at the house, which is located in the Riverton neighborhood, according to Cardilli Jr.’s deposition given to Portland Police hours after the incident, which was replayed Monday.

The altercation broke out around 1 a.m., between Cardilli Jr. and his father on one side and Muse on the other, with Chelsey Cardilli fighting with her brother and father in an attempt to stop them. The Cardilli men told Muse to leave and pushed him toward the door. Muse went back to Chelsey Cardilli’s room to collect his phone.

Cardilli Jr. had reappeared with a gun and said he would shoot Muse if he did not leave, according to Chelsey Cardilli. The two exchanged punches.

“They were about a foot away from each other,” Chelsey Cardilli said.

“Shoot me, it will be on the news,” Muse said while Cardilli Jr. had pointed a gun at him, according to testimony from Chelsey Cardilli.

Mark Flomenbaum, the state’s medical examiner, said that traces of gunpowder found on the victim’s jacket suggested that two of the fatal bullets likely struck Muse at “very close range,” the gun perhaps even touching the fabric when shots were fired.

The medical examiner reported that the fatal bullets hit Muse in the back, according to The Associated Press.

Asked by police hours after the incident why he went to retrieve his gun instead of calling law enforcement, Cardilli Jr. said he wanted to protect himself and his father against Muse, who was refusing to leave, according to a deposition replayed during Monday testimony.

“There was nothing we can do,” Cardilli Jr. said in his deposition, adding that he estimated Muse was “probably over 6 feet.”

Muse — who was identified by the state medical examiner at 5’9” and 139 pounds — was unarmed.

Maine law permits people to use deadly force in defense of themselves or their homes in certain circumstances, such as when a person is committing a criminal trespass, and if that other person is committing or is likely to commit another crime.

In another clip, Cardilli Jr. was identified as saying telling Muse, “You need to get out.”

Muse’s voice was heard saying, “Why are you hurting me? Why are you hurting me?”

A toxicology report said that Muse had alcohol and caffeine in his bloodstream at the time of death.

The death of Muse, who was a frequent guest in the house, sparked a large protest from Portland’s immigrant community.

Muse was a graduate of Deering High School, where he was a standout basketball player. The courthouse was filled with many of his former classmates and others from the immigrant community.

Chelsey Cardilli said that Cardilli Jr. had a history of making racist and Islamophobic remarks, and had told her that “Muslims were terrorists.”

Cardilli Sr. and Suzanne Cardilli had been informally separated, according to Chelsey Cardilli. Her father had been sleeping in the basement. Cardilli Jr. had been staying in an apartment above the garage. Cardilli Jr. had been away for army deployment “for about five years.”

Chelsey Cardilli had been on criminal probation since October for a shoplifting charge, according to Cardilli Jr. The terms of the probation included that she was not allowed to see Muse. In testimony to defense attorney Matt Nichols, Chelsey Cardilli said she had called her parents to pick her up after a fight with Muse in summer 2018.

Cardilli Jr. is free on a $50,000 cash bail during the trial.