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Slain Student’s Mother Sues Texas College, Alleged Rapist for Daughter’s Death

One and a half years after the criminal trial against Cayley Mandadi’s alleged killer ended in a mistrial, Mandadi’s mother has taken Mark Howerton and the school where the two met to court on negligence and equal protection claims.

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — A Texas mother has sued a private liberal arts university and the alleged murderer of her only child, Cayley Mandadi, alleging that her daughter would still be alive if school administrators had protected Mandadi instead of blaming the victim.

In the fall of 2017, Cayley Mandadi was a 19-year-old sophomore at Trinity University, a liberal arts school in San Antonio where she studied communications, joined a sorority and led cheers at sports games.

That Halloween, she was pulled from life support, just two days after her boyfriend Mark Howerton brought her — bruised, bleeding, with neither heartbeat nor pulse — to a hospital in Luling, Texas, saying she had fallen unconscious after they had “rough sex” in a parking lot.

More than two years after Mandadi’s death, the state finally took Howerton to trial on charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and murder — but after eight days of testimony and arguments, prosecutors couldn’t convince the jury that Howerton was guilty of felony murder, resulting in a mistrial on Dec. 12, 2019.

In the civil complaint filed Monday, Mandadi’s mother Alison Steele accused the university of letting her daughter die under its watch.

“Without support or help from the University, Ms. Mandadi fell victim to [Howerton’s] constant obsessive manipulation which included stealing her phone, cutting off her contact with her friends, prevention of her participation in activities at her sorority, and interruption of her cheerleading activities and interaction with the Trinity University football team members,” the complaint alleges. “In full view and knowledge of the university, its resident advisors, its athletic trainers, its police force, and its management, Howerton isolated Ms. Mandadi and cut her off from any support or help.”

In the complaint, Steele alleges that Trinity officials not only ignored Howerton’s dangerous behavior, but blamed Mandadi for Howerton’s actions after he trashed her dorm room that September, throwing her clothes from the dorm balcony and breaking its glass door while Mandadi was at a party Howerton didn’t want her to attend.

“Fully aware of the danger Cayley Mandadi was in, Trinity blamed Ms. Mandadi and held her responsible for the damage to her dormitory, even though she had not been present when the ransacking and destruction occurred,” the petition reads. “Trinity University engaged in the classic behavior of blaming the victim, Ms. Mandadi, and instituted disciplinary charges against her. Even though she was clearly the victim of stalking, harassment, domestic violence and intimidation, the only thing Trinity cared about was money and therefore held Ms. Mandadi responsible for the attack and resulting property damage to her dorm.”

According to the allegations, neither Steele nor Mandadi’s father, MGM Resorts International executive Tilak Mandadi, were informed of what Howerton had done to their daughter’s room, nor of Howerton’s alleged threats to “smash Cayley Mandadi’s face.”

The family brings claims against the college under Title IX, equal protection law, and common-law torts such as negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Steele additionally accuses Howerton of assault, sexual assault and rape.

“Howerton used drugs, threats, and blackmail to coerce [Mandadi] into seeing him and having sex with him. Howerton stole Ms. Mandadi’s phone and used it to control her and coerce her submission. Howerton also threatened Ms. Mandadi, and Ms. Mandadi’s friends with physical violence if she refused to comply,” the complaint alleges. “Howerton’s control and influence over Ms. Mandadi rendered any consent — if any — meaningless.”

Neither university officials nor Howerton’s criminal defense attorney, John Hunter, replied to requests for comment by press time.

Mandadi’s family seeks to recover more than $1 million in monetary relief, plus exemplary damages, under Texas’ wrongful death and survivorship statutes.

In the summer of 2019, after nearly a year of politicking, Steele convinced Texas legislators to unanimously pass legislation expanding Texas’ missing persons alert system.

Cayley was with “a known suspect, in a known vehicle, in a known location,” Steele told Courthouse News that April. Her bill allows Amber Alert-style emergency broadcasts for adults feared to have been kidnapped, which Steele says could have saved her daughter’s life.

Courthouse News asked Steele to comment on the litigation.

“I intend to pursue justice for my daughter Cayley, and crime victims like her, in every relevant social, legal, educational, and legislative context. That is what the Texas CLEAR Alert passage was all about, and that will continue to be my focus going forward,” said Steele, who founded the nonprofit Cayley’s Calling to promote the CLEAR Alert and other missing-persons programs. “I intend to do everything I possibly can to honor Cayley, and to help bring about the structural changes that we need so that similar preventable tragedies do not devastate other families like ours.”

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