CONTENT WARNING: Candid descriptions of physical violence and sexual assault follow.
Four months after the death of sophomore Cayley Mandadi, 22-year-old Mark Howerton was charged with murder and aggravated sexual assault on Wednesday, Feb. 28.
Howerton, who was the subject of a TUPD criminal trespass warning issued on Nov. 1, 2017, is not a Trinity student. After the release of a warrant for his arrest on Feb. 26, Howerton turned himself in to the Bexar County Magistrate’s Office.
On Thursday, March 1, Howerton was released on a $225,000 bail.
Beth Smith, Hays County Justice of the Peace, handled the investigation to determine the manner and cause of death. Smith said she ruled Mandadi’s death a homicide caused by complications of blunt force trauma to the face and head.
Mandadi was delivered unconscious to a Luling hospital on Oct. 29 before being transported to a hospital in Kyle, where she was declared brain-dead on Oct. 30. She was removed from life support and died on Oct. 31.
Because Luling is in Caldwell County, and Kyle is within Hays County, the Texas Rangers were tasked with the criminal investigation of Mandadi’s death.
Mandadi’s mother, Alison Steele, thanked Smith and the Rangers in a statement emailed to members of the press on Wednesday evening.
“The family of Cayley Mandadi thanks the Texas Rangers for their diligent work in bringing appropriate criminal charges against Cayley’s alleged killer. We thank Her Honor Beth Smith of Hays County Texas for her integrity and support during this unbelievably difficult process. We remain utterly devastated by the loss of Cayley. We ask people of faith to pray for her family, friends, and for justice in this case,” Steele wrote.
ACCORDING TO THE AFFIDAVIT
The state released an affidavit based on interviews with Trinity students, acquaintances of Howerton who do not attend Trinity and medical professionals. The document, which was released with the arrest warrant and is publicly available online, details the Rangers’ investigation.
The affidavit says that the authorities’ account of Mandadi’s injuries do not align with Howerton’s version of the events as told to law enforcement.
According to Howerton, the couple had known each other for approximately eight months before dating for about one month. In the affidavit, Howerton states he and Mandadi had spent Oct. 28 and 29 drinking and taking ecstasy while attending the Mala Luna Music Festival in San Antonio.
Following a fight over Mandadi’s ex-boyfriend, whom the pair had seen in attendance at the event, Howerton and Mandadi decided to drive to Houston.
In his interview with investigators, Howerton said the couple pulled over mid-drive to engage in consensual but “rough” sex, which included hair pulling, light choking and scratching. However, the affidavit states that the injuries she sustained showed signs of “violent sexual assault.”
According to the affidavit, Howerton’s acquaintance Landon Suggs said Howerton told him he lied to the Rangers about several facts.
Howerton told the Rangers he and Mandadi continued driving to Houston, and Mandadi stated she did not feel well and fell asleep in the front seat, still naked from the waist down.
At some point, Howerton noticed she was no longer breathing, so he began performing CPR on an unconscious Mandadi before taking her to the Seton Edgar B. Davis Hospital in Luling.
While Howerton was in Luling, police officers took photos of his person. The affidavit says his knuckles were “red in a manner consistent with someone punching someone else.”
Medical staff transferred Mandadi to Seton Medical Center Hays, a level-three trauma center in Kyle. In a phone interview on Wednesday, Feb. 28, Smith said it is not uncommon for patients from smaller hospitals to transfer to the more advanced trauma facility.
Mandadi was pronounced brain-dead on Oct. 30 and removed from life support on Oct. 31, two days after Howerton left her in Luling.
Mandadi was a member of the Chi Beta Epsilon social sorority. Some of her sorority sisters are among the witnesses included in the Rangers’ affidavit.
In their statements to the investigators, the women recounted past aggressive actions by Howerton against Mandadi: smashing her head into his car window, waving a gun in Mandadi’s face and trashing her dorm last September.
2015 Smith County court records indicate Howerton has previously been arrested on drug-related charges; his hometown of Tyler resides in Smith county. In the affidavit, multiple witnesses reference Howerton’s use and dealing of anabolic steroids.
Suggs told the Rangers Howerton admitted to being under the influence of anabolic steroids when he vandalized Mandadi’s room in September.
Sharon Jones Schweitzer, assistant vice president for university communications, told the Trinitonian that, while the university was aware of Howerton’s previous actions, it was only after Mandadi died that Trinity realized the nature of Mandadi and Howerton’s relationship.
“We knew that he had been on campus because he had been an invited guest of hers in September. As a non-Trinity student, that’s when he first became known to us,” Schweitzer said. “After Cayley’s death, there were some increased TUPD patrols to make sure that there weren’t going to be any problems and to make students feel a little safer, particularly the students who were closest to her.”
Howerton’s defense attorney, John T. Hunter, told the San Antonio Express-News Howerton turned himself in to the magistrate.
“Mr. Howerton maintains his innocence, and we ask the public to honor the presumption of his innocence,” Hunter said to the Express-News. “He turned himself in because that’s what a responsible citizen does if there’s a warrant out for his arrest.”
In the coming months, Howerton will face a variety of hearings. First, an arraignment.
According to attorney Barry Nance, who practices civil and criminal law, the accused will be brought before a judge and informed of the charges the state is bringing against him.
The next step will be a preliminary hearing.
“It’s the state’s job to prove that it’s more probable than not that a crime was committed, that this individual that we’ve charged with a crime [actually] committed it and that they should be bound over for trial,” Nance said. “It’s a preliminary hearing to see if we should go on to trial. And all during this time you have the opportunity for plea agreements.”
During the preliminary hearing, a trial judge will be chosen to hear the case. It is possible for the judge who presides over the preliminary hearing to also handle the trial, but the case may be handed over to a different judge, according to Nance.
If the case does go to trial, the presiding judge will set dates for the proceedings.
Following the first media accounts of Howerton’s arrest vice president for student affairs Sheryl Tynes sent a campus-wide email informing the student body of Howerton’s arrest. Tynes detailed services provided by the university to help students in need of additional support.
Schweitzer expanded on Tynes’ statement, saying the university prefers to focus on Mandadi’s life at Trinity rather than the details of her death.
“She was an exuberant, curious and engaged classmate, friend and student — a communication major who deeply loved her Chi Beta Epsilon sorority and teammates on the Trinity cheer team,” Schweitzer said. “Our focus continues to be on helping Cayley’s friends, classmates and faculty heal from her loss.”
After news broke of Howerton’s arrest, outside media visited campus, seeking interviews with students. Tynes addressed this in her email to campus.
“We have an open, urban campus and media will come on campus seeking ways to cover this story,” Tynes said. “While we will ask the media to respect the privacy of our community, please know that you are under no obligation to talk with the media or provide an interview.”
A TRAGEDY, A TREND
A 2017 Center for Disease Control report states nearly half of female homicides are committed by a victim’s past or current romantic partner. In nearly a third of the cases studied, the killing was preceded by an argument, and 12 percent of those deaths were associated with jealousy.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers 24-hour support every day of the week for those who are, or believe they might be, in an abusive relationship. Calls to the hotline, 1-800-799-7233, are free and confidential, and live web chat services and other resources are also available online: thehotline.org
additional reporting by Daniel Conrad, editor-in-chief, and Kathleen Creedon, news editor