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Mark Howerton sentenced to 20 years for aggravated assault in Trinity cheerleader's 2017 death

It represents the maximum possible sentence for his conviction.

SAN ANTONIO — Mark Howerton has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault causing bodily injury in the 2017 death of 19-year-old Cayley Mandadi, a Trinity University cheerleader. He was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and restitution to Mandadi's parents, and is barred from contacting more than 20 people connected with the case. 

Howerton, now 27, also faced a murder charge in Mandadi's death, but a Bexar County jury found him not guilty of that charge in early June.

The punishment for aggravated assault ranges from 2 to 20 years. Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales previously said his office would be seeking the maximum sentence in this case.

“We are disappointed that the jury did not convict Mark Howerton of murder, but are pleased that he will be held accountable for his actions," Gonzales said after the sentence was handed down. "The completion of this emotional and difficult journey is a testament to the determination of Cayley’s family and friends and the efforts of our trial team to hold Mark Howerton accountable."

How we got here

"I’m happy this brings the (family) closure because it’s been a long time waiting for this day," Gonzales said after Howerton was convicted of aggravated assault earlier this month. 

The lead prosecutor, David Lunan, reflected on the case after two weeks of testimony. He says it was an "arduous" task trying to gather witnesses who were all out of town, but said that everybody was "all in."

"The real distinction between murder and aggravated assault serious bodily injury is the result oriented-intent of Mark Howerton, did he want her dead or did he just want to hurt her and killed her, and ultimately I think the jury resolved that issue," Lunan told reporters.

Lunan admitted the trial was an emotional experience but is relieved that it has reached a conclusion.

"There’s vicarious trauma in these situations in having to meet with family members and friends and everybody else who are grievously affected by these crimes and they have been hurting...we're happy to have concluded today," Lunan said.

An hour and a half was spent in closing arguments earlier Friday. The state argued that Howerton caused the injuries Mandadi experienced. Her official cause of death was blunt force trauma, however, defense attorneys argued that Mandadi could have overdosed from high levels of MDMA, or Molly, in her system.

The two were last seen leaving the Mala Luna music festival in San Antonio together on October 29, 2017. In closing arguments, the state attorneys say Howerton was driving around with Mandadi for six hours before he took her to a hospital in Luling.

The state argued that Mandadi arrived to the hospital “lifeless” and without a pulse. Mandadi had her pants around her ankles and there was blood on the front passenger seat of Howerton’s car, according to testimony.

The state attorney’s office displayed pictures of Mandadi’s injuries, included bruising on her arms, legs, and on her ear.

“The defendant beat Cayley Mandadi’s face so hard that it caused her brain to strip away from her skull,” state attorney Alessandra Crenshaw said. The state showed a graphic autopsy photo showing blood in Mandadi’s brain.

To support their case, state attorneys presented text messages between Mandadi and Howerton, including suicide threats that Howerton sent, saying “if I leave it’s death.”

The state attorneys reminded the jury of an incident on October 15 when Howerton trashed Mandadi’s dorm room after she went to a frat party where her ex-boyfriend would be. The state attorneys argue that Mandadi was trying to end her relationship with Howerton on the 29th.

Defense attorney John Hunter dismissed the argument as “high school drama” and said the state doesn’t understand the science behind the case.

“You’re not here to decide if [Howerton] is a good boyfriend. Those aren’t the issues. The question is whether he intentionally caused her death,” Hunter said.

Closing arguments showed that Mandadi and Howerton left the music festival and had sex in the parking lot near the Whataburger corporate offices off of Highway 281.

Defense attorneys say the two had texted about moving to Houston together. Hunter also argued that his client didn’t have criminal intent because he took her to the hospital.

The defense argues that Mandadi’s stimulant use that weekend could have caused hypertension or high blood pressure, which could’ve led to a brain bleed, which he says could have happened if Mandadi had bumped her head while the two were having sex in Howerton’s car.

“There’s reasonable doubt all over the place,” Hunter said.

A hung jury led to the 2019 case being dismissed. 

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