Jury deliberations begin in trial of accused cheerleader killer

Mark Howerton facing murder, rape and kidnapping charges.

GF Default - Jury deliberations begin in trial of accused cheerleader killer
GF Default - Jury deliberations begin in trial of accused cheerleader killer

San Antonio – After the state and the defense rested and closed their respective cases Wednesday, defense attorney John Hunter asked for an instructed verdict of not guilty, claiming that prosecutors had not proven their case against his client Mark Howerton.

Senior District Court Judge Raymond Angelini denied the motion.

Howerton, 24, is facing murder, rape and kidnapping charges. He is accused of forcing Trinity University cheerleader Cayley Mandadi, 19, to leave a music festival with him on Oct. 28, 2017.

The couple had been in a relationship that she was trying to end, according to witnesses during Howerton’s trial, which began early last week.

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Hunter suggested that “the state has not proven any evidence that establishes the essential elements of the crime of murder, no matter what theory we’re talking about.”

“We believe from the evidence that Cayley died from blunt force trauma by being struck on the head by this defendant," said prosecutor David Lunan, pointing to Howerton.

During previous testimony, witnesses said that during the couple’s relationship, Howerton was “possessive and controlling.”

“He didn’t want her talking to anybody else but him,” prosecutor Alessandra Cranshaw told the jury. “He wanted her around just him.”

After leaving the music festival, the couple stopped on the way to Houston and had what Howerton told investigators was rough, consensual sex.

He said when he noticed that Mandadi was having trouble breathing, so he sought medical help in Luling.

Mandadi was pronounced dead the next day at a Hays County hospital.

According to testimony, the couple had used a drug call MDMA, commonly referred to as “Molly.”

A drug overdose, Hunter claimed, is what caused Mandadi’s death.

The jury deliberated for about two hours Wednesday before they were sent home for the day.

Deliberations will resume on Thursday.

If he is convicted, Howerton is facing a maximum punishment of life in prison.

About the Author:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.