Open Court: The Retrial of Mark Howerton

SAN ANTONIO – It’s a murder case KSAT 12 has been following since Trinity University cheerleader Cayley Mandadi was killed about five and half years ago.

Her boyfriend, Mark Howerton, who was at the center of the investigation from the beginning, would end up being charged with murder.

The initial incident took place Oct. 29, 2017, after Howerton and Mandadi went to the Mala Luna Festival.

What played out after the event is not entirely known except for what Howerton told authorities.

Watch the mini-documentary in the video player above. You can also watch on KSAT Plus and KSAT’s YouTube channel.

Murder Investigation

Howerton told police that the two had been arguing about her ex-boyfriend and left the festival.

He said they made up as they were driving out of town toward Houston and stopped at a gas station to have what he called “rough sex.”

Howerton said Mandadi passed out after complaining of not feeling well.

He said after noticing she wasn’t breathing he drove to the nearest hospital, which was in Lockhart.

According to reports at the time of the incident, Mandadi arrived at the hospital nude from the waist down and was covered in bruises.

Mandadi was declared brain dead and died two days later.

An autopsy report stated the only parts of Mandadi’s body without injury were her back and the back of her legs. It was ruled she died from blunt force trauma to the head.

The investigation into her death revealed that the couple had a tumultuous relationship and that Mandadi had told friends she was scared of Howerton and wanted to break up with him.

Four months after her death, Howerton was charged with murder.


In 2019, Howerton’s trial began, and at first many thought it would be an open and shut case, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Howerton’s attorney, John Hunter, claimed there were mistakes made in the investigation and that the bruising she had was not from Howerton but from hospital staff as they rendered life-saving measures such as CPR.

The trial took a turn when Mandadi’s ex-boyfriend Jeff Birchum took the stand.

During his cross-examination, Hunter challenged Birchum’s account of events that he claimed to see at the Mala Luna Festival.

Birchum did confirm that what he initially told police was different than testimony he gave to a grand jury and the testimony he was currently giving.

Hunter also brought Birchum’s criminal record and when questioned about it he began to plead the fifth.

Jury deliberations began after more than a week of testimony but the panel couldn’t agree on a verdict and the trial ended in a mistrial.

A judge declared a mistrial in the trial of a man accused of killing Trinity University cheerleader Cayley Mandadi Thursday after the jury could not reach a verdict.


After more than three years, the retrial will finally take place.

Jury selection begins on May 22 and testimony to start right after.

The trial will be heard in the 144th District Court with Judge Michael Mery presiding, who doesn’t allow cameras in his courtroom.

If found guilty, Howerton is facing up to life in prison.

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