The murder case in the death of 19-year-old Trinity University cheerleader Cayley Mandadi, who died of blunt force trauma, was declared a mistrial on Thursday.
Jurors deliberated for more than 10 hours before telling a judge that they could not arrive at a verdict in the case.
Mandadi, a sophomore communications major at the private liberal arts school in San Antonio, Texas, died on Halloween in 2017.
Her boyfriend, then-22-year-old Mark Howerton, was indicted by a grand jury in April 2018 after authorities said he kidnapped and raped Mandadi before beating her to death. If convicted, he faces between five and 99 years in prison.
The couple had been dating for only five weeks when Mandadi died, but it was a turbulent time riddled with unexplained bruises and alleged violence, including an incident where Mandadi’s friends said Howerton slammed her head against a car window and another where they said he destroyed Mandadi’s dorm room and threatened to throw her off the balcony, according to The San Antonio Express-News.
State prosecutor Alessandra Cranshaw reportedly told jurors in 144th Criminal District Court during opening arguments last week that Howerton’s relationship with Mandadi “was marked by possessiveness, controlling behavior,” jealousy, and violence.
“That’s how this defendant acts when he doesn’t get his way,” Cranshaw told jurors during the state’s closing arguments on Wednesday. “He lashes out.”
Things allegedly went south almost as soon as Mandadi began dating Howerton. The couple attended a music festival in San Antonio on Oct. 29, 2017, before getting into an argument about her ex-boyfriend and taking off for an allegedly impromptu road trip to Houston. Howerton has claimed that they made up while on the road, then stopped and had what he described as “consensual but ‘rough’ sex” involving choking. Afterwards, he said Mandadi did not feel well and passed out, reported News 4 San Antonio.
By the time Mandadi made it to a hospital, medical personnel said she was “unresponsive” and “nude from the waist down, had bruises on her neck/thigh area, and was bleeding from her vagina.”
She died two days later, after she was declared brain dead.
Medical examinations and an autopsy report reportedly declared that Mandadi—who arrived at the hospital “covered with bruises from head to toe, from ears to inner thighs down to her feet”—had been violently sexually assaulted and died from “blunt force trauma to the head and face,” said Cranshaw.
When police first encountered Howerton that night, according to an affidavit in his arrest, his hands were “red in a manner consistent with someone punching someone else.”
Counter to Howerton’s version of events, a four-month investigation by the Texas Rangers found, according to the affidavit, that Howerton likely abducted Mandadi from the Mala Luna music festival after he became jealous of her ex-boyfriend, then punched her in the face and violently sexually assaulted her. Mandadi had grown afraid of him, her friends told police, according to the Express-News.
Mandadi’s ex-boyfriend testified last week that she told him she had tried to find a way to end things with Howerton “without any backlash” and decided to do it at the music festival. That was the last time he saw her alive, he told jurors, according to Courthouse News.
Texas Rangers reportedly wrote in Howerton’s arrest affidavit that Mandadi’s injuries were “consistent with a physical and violent sexual assault,” and the indictment alleged that he “intentionally and knowingly” caused her death “by striking” her with his hand or “causing her head to strike a blunt object,” reported News 4 San Antonio.
“He doesn’t get a pass for taking her to the hospital with her pants around her ankles,” Cranshaw said during her closing argument.
During the trial, Howerton’s defense made much of the fact that Mandadi drank and took MDMA—also known as ecstasy—at the music festival before her death. Though she died as a result of injuries from blunt force trauma to the head and face, an expert for the defense said that the psychoactive drug, which was present in her system at the hospital, could’ve increased her blood pressure, which could have contributed to her brain bleeding. Prosecutors, meanwhile, countered that there was never any proof that the drug was a factor in Mandadi’s death, according to KSAT-TV.
Howerton’s defense attorney, John Hunter, said that Mandadi could have died as a result of the “rough” but “consensual” sex after the couple left the music festival, that no one really knows what happened that night, that Mandadi’s wounds weren’t consistent with assault, and that medical personnel could have caused her injuries while trying to revive her. Hunter reportedly acknowledged that Howerton’s relationship with Mandadi was “turbulent” and even “jealous” but that the state had not met its burden of proof for a murder conviction.
“There is no evidence that Mark Howerton killed Cayley Mandadi,” Hunter told jurors. “The state has no idea what happened to Cayley Mandadi.”
One of Mandadi’s sorority sisters, said last week that she hopes people remember “who she was, and not just how she died.”
“She was intelligent, funny, kind, and so much more,” the friend posted on Facebook. “She would drop anything if you needed her. She did the weirdest faces and also had the wildest stories.”
Days after her death, dozens of friends and family members gathered at a student-organized memorial service filled with red roses to honor Mandadi, according to the student newspaper, The Trinitonian. Mandadi was in the Chi Beta Epsilon sorority, she ate ice-cream cake and mozzarella sticks, she held a “Not My President” sign at the Austin Women’s March, she wore lab coats in class, she watched Star Trek, and she relentlessly supported her friends, reported the paper.
“She was always the go-to person, whether it was food at 2 a.m. or if you just needed to talk about life,” her sorority sister wrote on Facebook. “She was spontaneous, she was happy, and she was deeply loved. She was my best friend and she deserved so much better than what happened.”
At the time of Howerton’s arrest, Trinity University said in a statement that she was “an exuberant, curious and engaged classmate, friend and student” and that the school planned to “focus on Cayley’s life at Trinity, rather than the details of her senseless and tragic death.”
Last November, Mandadi’s sorority sisters at Chi Beta Epsilon held a fundraiser for the San Antonio Rape Crisis Center in her memory.
“Everyone always said that she’s pretty, but once you got to know her it was so plain to see that she was more than just a pretty girl,” Ariana Conway, one of Mandadi’s sorority sisters, told The Trinitonian after her memorial.
“She would do anything for her friends, and she was always happy and smiling and laughing. I just wish more people could see that she was pretty on the inside, too,” said Conway.