Man found guilty of aggravated assault, not murder in Trinity University student’s death

This is the second time Mark Howerton has been on trial for the murder of Cayley Mandadi, 19.

SAN ANTONIOUpdate (4:45 p.m., Friday):

A Bexar County jury has reached a verdict for a man accused in the death of a Trinity University cheerleader in 2017.

Mark Howerton has been found not guilty of murder but guilty of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, a lesser charge.

This is the second time that Howerton has been on trial for the murder of Cayley Mandadi, 19. His first trial, in 2019, ended in a mistrial after a jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict.

Prosecutor David Lunan said Mandadi’s family is relieved to finally have some closure in the case.

“We’re happy -- the family is satisfied that there is closure here,” Lunan said in a statement to KSAT. “In having to meet with family members and friends and everything else who were affected by these crimes, and they’ve been hurting, and we are happy to conclude it today.”

Howerton is facing between 2-20 years in prison for the aggravated assault charge. His sentence will be determined at another hearing, scheduled two weeks from now.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales issued a statement on the case, shared below:

“Cayley’s death is a reminder of the devastating consequences of domestic violence. Although we are disappointed that the jury did not convict Mark Howerton of murder, we are pleased that he will be held accountable for his actions and is facing up to 20 years in prison. The outcome of this emotional and difficult journey to justice is a testament to the determination of Cayley’s family and friends’ pursuit of justice and our office’s efforts to hold people accountable for their actions. May Cayley Mandadi now rest in peace,” Gonzales said.

We’ll bring more updates as they become available.


After seven days of testimony, a jury on Friday is deliberating whether the boyfriend of a Trinity University student is guilty or innocent of killing her.

Mark Howerton is charged with murder in the death of Cayley Mandadi, 19. In the charge of the court, the jury can consider two lesser charges — aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury or criminal negligent homicide.

This is the second time that Howerton is on trial for the murder case.

His first trial in 2019 ended in a mistrial after a jury couldn’t agree on a verdict.

The crux of the case centers on what took place on Oct. 29, 2017, after Howerton and Mandadi went to the Mala Luna Festival in San Antonio.

What played out after the event is not entirely known, except for what Howerton told authorities.

Howerton told police that the two had been arguing about Mandadi’s ex-boyfriend and left the festival. He said they made up as they were driving out of town toward Houston and stopped at a gas station to have what he called “rough sex.” He said Mandadi passed out after complaining of not feeling well. After noticing she wasn’t breathing, Howerton drove to the nearest hospital, which was in Luling.

Mark Howerton is charged with murder in the death of Cayley Mandadi, 19 ((ksat))

The second trial, which started on May 23, picks up what happened next.

The first witness to testify for the state was a paramedic who treated Mandadi before she died.

Sharyl Lane testified that when she arrived at the hospital with another patient, Howerton flagged her down and yelled for help.

Lane said that when she approached Howerton’s car, she found Mandadi in complete disarray.

“Her top was pulled up and her pants were on the floorboard by her ankles. She had bruises on her thighs and she wasn’t breathing,” Lane told jurors.

Lane said she immediately started CPR.

Mandadi was declared brain dead and died two days later.

An autopsy report ruled that she died from blunt force trauma to the head.

A Texas Ranger’s investigation was challenged on Day 3 of the trial by defense attorney John Hunter.

Hunter asked Texas Ranger Raymond Benoist why Mandadi’s ex-boyfriend, Jett Birchum, wasn’t investigated since she was with him as well on the day she died. Benoist said that she was with Birchum on the morning of Oct. 29, but later went with Howerton to the festival and was seen leaving the concert with Howerton.

Hunter pointed out inconsistencies in Birchum’s accounts of what he saw at the festival when Howerton and Mandadi left. Despite the discrepancies, Benoist said that Birchum was never a suspect in the case.

The investigation into Mandadi’s death revealed that the couple had a tumultuous relationship, and that Mandadi had told friends she was scared of Howerton and wanted to break up with him.

On Day 4 of the trial, the jury was shown a text message between Mandadi and Birchum.

“How do I break up with Mark? If I get killed, which is honestly probable, Jett know I love you,” the text said.

After the state rested its case on Day 6 of the trial, 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 for the defense was a digital forensic expert who did his own analysis of Mandadi’s, Howerton’s and Birchum’s phones. The testimony was aimed to dispute what the state presented with their cellphone data and GPS coordinates testimony.

Dr. Jason Wallach, a defense witness who testified in the first trial, returned to the stand in Day 7 of the trial.

Wallach, a pharmaceutical and toxicology expert, testified that the drug MDMA, or molly, was in Mandadi’s system at the time of her death. He added that the drug could have increased her heart rate and blood pressure and also contributed to brain bleeding and bruising.

Closing arguments took place Friday morning with jury deliberations beginning right after.

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

You can watch a mini-documentary of the case in the video player below.

About the Authors:

David Ibañez has been managing editor of since the website's launch in October 2000.

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.