SAN ANTONIO (CN) – After a seven-day trial, a San Antonio jury must now determine whether to convict Mark Howerton, who is accused of killing his 19-year-old girlfriend Cayley Mandadi in October 2017.
The Trinity University sophomore, a cheerleader and sorority sister, was taken off life support on October 31, 2017. Her autopsy revealed that she suffered a subdural hematoma, or a pooling of blood in the brain cavity, that caused her brain and heart to fail.
The question before the jury – comprised of seven men and five women – is whether Howerton is responsible for the hematoma, or if it was caused by a fall, the pair’s drug use at a music festival that weekend or an accident during “rough sex” Howerton claims the pair had in a parking lot while they were intoxicated.
“She had just turned 19 when she left for Mala Luna Music Festival with the defendant,” said state prosecutor Alessandra Cranshaw during her closing argument. “She was just beginning her life when she got into the car with that defendant … And she deserved more than this.”
Howerton’s defense counsel, John Hunter of Hunter Lane & Jampala, emphasized the state’s burden of proof.
“Mark’s not a killer. He’s not covering up some plan, some diabolical scheme. He’s not covering up some act of passion ... Mark’s not covering anything up,” Hunter argued. “Mark’s a 22-year-old boy, as you can see, probably, with the emotional intelligence of a boy who’s 15 or 16.”
Witness testimony painted Howerton as a possessive, jealous boyfriend who would yell at Mandadi and shove her, take her phone and look through her photos and messages. Mandadi’s ex-boyfriend Jett Birchum told the jury last Friday that when she went to a fraternity party against Howerton’s wishes, the defendant sent her a video of himself putting a gun in his mouth with the caption: “this is your fault.”
“He’s not on trial for being a manipulative jerk. He’s on trial for murder,” Hunter said of Howerton in the defense’s closing argument. “The absence of evidence is something you are always obligated to favor and consider in favor of one person: Mark Howerton.”
On Oct. 29, 2017, the pair attended the Mala Luna Music Festival in San Antonio, where they drank heavily and took ecstasy, an empathogen also known as “molly” or “MDMA” consumed recreationally for its euphoric qualities.
On their way to Houston after leaving the festival, they pulled over to have what Howerton described to investigators as “rough sex” in the parking lot of Whataburger’s corporate headquarters.
Howerton said that afterward, Mandadi seemed to pass out and was snoring loudly. He decided to continue to drive to Houston, a decision the prosecutors cast as a kidnapping, when he noticed that Mandadi stopped snoring and had no pulse or heartbeat. That’s when he drove to a hospital in Luling, Texas, about 60 miles east of San Antonio.
“We started this case last week with Sheryl Lane, the paramedic from Luling,” Cranshaw said.
Lane approached Howerton’s Mercedes-Benz at the hospital, “opened the passenger side door and found the lifeless Cayley Mandadi sitting in the front seat with her pants down around her ankles, without a pulse, not breathing,” Cranshaw added.