Getting away with murder 

The first anti-miscegenation law in what would eventually become these United States of America passed in Maryland in 1691. That’s 332 years ago. That’s how long white people in this country have been obsessed with preventing interracial coupling. 

Not all coupling, of course. We all know what avid rapists plantation owners were. Specifically, the fear was Black men getting together with white women. For those Black men, committing such a crime is punishable by more than death. After being killed, the erasure begins. Whatever joy, passion, depth of humanity existed in this victim must no longer exist. His only emotion must be rage and his size and appearance must be frightening because the world must surely be safer with his absence. And the white killer? The story of this noble yet reluctant protector must be spread far and wide!

Somehow this story hasn’t changed at all in the past 332 years. Back in 2020, I wrote about the killing of a 22-year-old Black Muslim man named Isahak Muse. The story was that Muse had been visiting his white girlfriend, Chelsea, at her home in Portland, where she lived with her parents, Suzanne and Mark Cardilli, Sr., and her brother, Mark Cardilli, Jr. Muse was asked to leave, but allegedly refused. The situation escalated to a shoving match between Muse and the Cardilli men. Suzanne pulled out her phone to call 911, but Muse slapped it out of her hand. She then ran out of the house to find a neighbor for help. 

Right around then is when Mark Jr., a military veteran, went to his room to retrieve his gun. He attempted to threaten Muse into leaving. Instead, Muse, standing over six feet tall, at 170 pounds, allegedly ran at Mark Jr., throwing punches. Mark Jr. tried to block as many blows as he could, but eventually raised his gun and shot Isahak, killing him. 

That was the story they told the court, anyway. And the usual suspects went along with it. The Portland Press Herald published an article with the headline, “Family argument led to shooting and murder charge against Army sergeant, Portland police say.” 

The only problem was all the lies in their story, starting with the small details, like the Cardilli’s home security footage showing that Suzanne had her phone in her hand when she went to the neighbors’. A larger detail: Isahak Muse stood 5’9” and weighed only 139 pounds. Oh, and maybe the most important detail: Muse was shot in the back. Twice.  

Nearly three weeks after killing Isahak Muse, Mark Jr. was arrested. He waved his right to a jury trial, instead opting for a trial by judge. During the bench trial, Chelsea testified that her brother had said many racist things to her, including that Somali people were gang members, Muslims were terrorists, and Black people getting shot by police was always their own fault. Regardless, opting for a bench trial turned out to be good legal strategy, because Judge Nancy Mills acquitted Mark Jr. of murder and found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to seven and a half years, adding insult to injury for the Muse family. 

That was December of 2019, and since then the situation has gone beyond satire. In 2021, Cardilli appealed his case, claiming self-defense and fear of imminent danger. Mills had already rejected that argument, as would the appellate court. But then, this past April, Mark Jr. returned to court with a new lawyer seeking a new trial. The Press Herald reported that the reason his previous lawyers had advised him to wave a jury trial is because one of them, Matt Nichols, believed Portland was “woke” and “leftist,” and: “There’s an awful lot of white people in this town, this area, who are overwhelmed with white guilt.”

Mark Jr. testified that Nichols said his personal relationship with Judge Millswould assure an acquittal on the murder charge, which he did receive. According to Mark Jr., Nichols said his family called her “Grandma Mills.” Nichols later refuted that claim, stating that his family’s nickname for Mills was actually “judgiepoo.” Really. 

On Aug. 22 of this year, Justice John O’Neil ruled that Cardilli’s former lawyers failed to “vigorously argue” the case for self-defense. The judge then threw out the conviction. Mark Jr. is now free and awaiting a new trial. And the Muse family is forced to yet again watch the system viciously continue its 332-year-long practice of punishment and erasure. 

Say his name: Isahak Muse.

Samuel James is a musician and storyteller whose work has been featured on The Moth as well as This American Life.

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