State rests in retrial of man accused of killing Trinity University student

Mark Howerton faces maximum punishment of up to life in prison if found guilty

SAN ANTONIO – After six days of testimony, the state has rested in the retrial of a man accused of the murder of a Trinity University student.

Mark Howerton is charged with killing his girlfriend, Cayley Mandadi, in 2017.

Before the state rested, prosecutors played two audio recordings of an interview Texas Ranger Raymond Benoist conducted with Howerton days after the defendant showed up with an unconscious Mandadi at a Luling hospital.

In the first interview on Oct. 30, 2017, Howerton doesn’t tell Benoist much about his relationship with Mandadi, only that they argued sometimes about her ex-boyfriend.

Howerton said the day before the couple went to the Mala Luna Festival, Mandadi had told him they were “soul mates” and that “she hated Trinity University, hated her friends, and just wanted to be with him.”

As they left the festival, the defendant said they got into an argument but later made up at a Valero, having what he called “rough sex.”

Howerton said he choked her briefly while having sex, but said it was consensual and something he had done during sex with Mandadi before.

After sex, the defendant said they spoke for a bit before Mandadi said she wasn’t feeling and passed out.

Howerton said he later noticed she stopped snoring and checked if she was breathing.

“I checked for a pulse, for her heartbeat and didn’t feel anything,” Howerton said. “I panicked and took her to the hospital.”

The next day, Benoist went to interview Howerton again after speaking with Mandadi’s family and friends.

Howerton told Benoist that they actually had sex at a parking lot in San Antonio and not at the Valero.

When Benoist asked why he didn’t tell him about trashing her dorm room and keeping Mandadi’s phone away from her he said, “I went through her phone to find out what she was doing.”

Howerton claimed Mandadi’s friends were trying to keep her away from him.

He also admitted to previously shoving Mandadi and breaking her laptop.

As the defense took over the case, attorney John Hunter tried to motion for a mistrial saying the state didn’t prove without a reasonable doubt that Howerton committed murder or sexual assault. The motion was denied by 144th District Court Judge Michael Mery.

The first witness the defense put on the witness stand was a digital forensic expert who did his own analysis of Mandadi and Howerton’s phone, as well as her ex-boyfriends phone.

The testimony was aimed to dispute what the state presented with their cellphone data and GPS coordinates testimony on Tuesday.

Testimony in the trial resumes on Thursday morning.

If found guilty, Howerton faces a maximum punishment of up to life in prison.


About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.