Father, friends of Cayley Mandadi testify in third day of accused killer’s retrial

Mark Howerton stands accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Cayley Mandadi, a Trinity University cheerleader who was killed in October 2017.

SAN ANTONIO — Testimony continued Thursday in the high-profile case of Mark Howerton, accused of killing his girlfriend, Cayley Mandadi, a Trinity University cheerleader.

After a mistrial in 2019, prosecutors began their testimony on with one of the lead investigators looking into Mandadi’s death. 

According to the Texas Ranger’s testimony, he spoke with Jett Burcham, Mandadi’s ex-boyfriend. He claimed that at the time of her killing, he saw Mandadi and Howerton leave the Mala Luna music festival together, stating he carried her out of the festival grounds. The Ranger testifies that Burcham tried to call Mandadi to see if she was OK.

Defense attorneys asked the Ranger about statements he took from witnesses; he responded by saying Burcham had changed his story several times.

Previous reports state Mandadi and Howerton had taken MDMA, or molly, at the music festival on the night the alleged assault happened.

Previous reports from investigators also state Howerton and Mandadi were driving to Houston when they pulled over and had “rough” sex in the car. Howerton told police he choked her during sex, saying, “But it wasn’t like, ‘kill her,’” and “it wasn’t like that.”

One friend testified Thursday they recall Mandadi wanting to break up with Howerton and return to her ex-boyfriend. That witness recalls Mandadi was pulled by her arm into Howerton’s Mercedes when they left the festival. She claims she sent a Snapchat video to Mandadi, to which Howerton replied saying “go f*** yourself you stupid b******.”

The defense attorneys also questioned witnesses on Thursday about Mandadi’s drug use.  Although friends of Mandadi testified she would come back to her Trinity dorm room drunk or high, they did notice some disturbing behavior from Howerton.

Morgan Sampson testified about a day she allegedly witnessed Howerton and Mandadi getting into an argument after she told him about going to a frat party that night. While they were gone, a suitemate could hear a disturbance next door. The suitemate called police, who came by and knocked on the door.

Howerton was alone in the room waiting for Mandadi and her roommate to return from the party. A Trinity University police officer described the room as disheveled. He noticed a rag wrapped around Howerton’s hand with blood on it. 

The roommate returns and testifies some of Mandadi’s clothes and school supplies were thrown over the balcony.

Howerton walked silently out of the courtroom during a lunch break on Thursday, after testimony from Texas Ranger Raymond Benoist Jr. about his investigation.

Although a medical examiner had ruled Mandadi died due to blunt force trauma, defense attorneys previously argued it’s unclear if the blunt force could have been from Mandadi’s medical treatment at the hospital. Some of Mandadi’s injuries include bruising and a broken rib.

In Howerton’s last trial, the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared. This time, the jury is composed of nine women and four men. 

Testimony is set to continue Friday at 9 a.m. 

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