Mistrial Declared in Case of Murdered Texas Cheerleader

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — After 10 hours of deliberation over two days, a San Antonio jury could not return a unanimous verdict in the murder trial of a Texas man accused of killing his college cheerleader girlfriend.

Mark Howerton was on trial in San Antonio, Texas, for the murder of his girlfriend Cayley Mandadi. A mistrial was declared Thursday. (CNS Photo/Daniel Conrad)

Prosecutors claimed Mark Howerton of Tyler, Texas, abducted, raped and assaulted Cayley Mandadi in a jealous rage after she tried to break up with him at the 2017 Mala Luna Music Festival.

Jurors choosing to find Howerton guilty did not have to agree on exactly what he did in order to find him guilty of felony murder because the indictment presented more than one theory.

The first paragraph accused Howerton of causing Mandadi’s death specifically by striking her with his hand, by grabbing and shaking her, by causing her head to hit a blunt object or by some other means.

But the following three paragraphs broaden the criteria. Each incorporates the first paragraph’s allegations but also permitted the jury to find him guilty if he committed “an act clearly dangerous to human life” that caused Mandadi’s death. One says he did so in the course of a sexual assault and another contends he committed such an act during a kidnapping.

So if half the jury believed Howerton was guilty of kidnapping and the other half did not, but all agreed that he caused her death via striking her, they could have found him guilty of murder.

However, jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision on the murder charge and a mistrial was declared Thursday afternoon.

KSAT-12, San Antonio’s ABC news affiliate, reported that the jury’s foreman said eight jurors sought a guilty verdict while four members held out.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said prosecutors will seek a retrial.

“We are obviously very disappointed with the mistrial, but we intend to retry this case and bring justice to Cayley Mandadi,” he said in an emailed statement.

During the afternoon, lead defense counsel John Hunter of Hunter Lane & Jampala introduced a new wrinkle into the trial’s procedure.

In a motion for mistrial submitted to visiting judge Raymond Angelini, the retired Bexar County judge who presided over the trial, Hunter said that he received a call Wednesday night from an employee of the Luling hospital where Howerton brought Mandadi the night he allegedly assaulted her.

The employee called to say she remembers writing down intake notes that should have been evidence in the case, but were not discovered because the employee had misspelled Mandadi’s name.

According to what Hunter told Angelini, these intake notes contradict the testimony offered by EMS technician Sheryl Lane, who retrieved Mandadi from Howerton’s car that October night, regarding Mandadi’s condition.

This new development may come before the next jury. It is unknown whether prosecutors were aware of these alleged intake notes

Mandadi was a sophomore communications major and a cheerleader at Trinity University in San Antonio at the time of her death.

During the seven-day trial, Mandadi’s friends testified to Howerton’s allegedly violent, possessive behavior. They said Howerton trashed her dorm room when she attended a party hosted by her ex-boyfriend’s fraternity just two weeks before her death – prompting her suitemate to call the university police, who issued a criminal trespass warning against Howerton — then drove to the frat house, dumped her belongings out of her bag and smashed her laptop on the street.

Mandadi’s roommate Morgan Sampson testified last Thursday that when she came to the room to see if Mandadi had decided to go to the party with her, she saw Mandadi pushed up against the wall on their dorm room balcony, with Howerton holding her by the shoulders and talking intensely to her.

The cheerleader’s sorority sister Ariana Conway said that Mandadi asked her to join in retrieving her phone from Howerton, who had taken it because “he was the only one who should contact her,” as she was scared to go alone. When Howerton arrived to give back Mandadi’s phone, he allegedly interrogated her about why she had photos of her ex-boyfriend Jett Birchum saved on her Snapchat account.

Conway also told the court that Howerton pulled a gun from his glove compartment, waved it around and threatened to kill Birchum and his fraternity brothers on the night of the party. But the jury did not hear this testimony. They had been relieved for the day and the testimony was ruled inadmissible by Judge Raymond Angelini, a retired Bexar County judge who presided over the trial.

Howerton’s defense team offered a bevy of alternative causes to Mandadi’s injuries. They said she could have fallen when she was under the influence of alcohol and ecstasy, for example.

In May, Mandadi’s mother, Alison Steele, concluded her nearly year-long effort to expand the scope of the state’s kidnapping and missing person alert systems to include adult victims.

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