Cayley Mandadi’s Death: How Did She Die? Was She Killed?

Image Credit: Juanfe/Find a Grave

’48 Hours: For the Love of Cayley Mandadi’ covers the mysterious death of a college student named Cayley Mandadi in October 2017. What was meant to be an evening filled with music and enjoyment as she attended a music festival on the fateful day turned into something terrible for her and her loved ones. The episode not only showcases the investigators’ efforts to get to the bottom of the case but also Cayley’s parents, who moved heaven and earth to prove that her demise was not a mere accident. Moreover, given the insightful interviews with her family members and officials connected to the case, we get a detailed account of what really transpired before and after Cayley’s untimely demise.

How Did Cayley Mandadi Die?

Cayley Anita Mandadi was born on August 26, 1998, in Webster, Texas, to Alison Steele, who was a scientist. Ever since she was about 9 years old, her stepfather Lawrence Baitland, a NASA engineer, had helped Alison raise her. Not only was she a loving and beloved daughter and granddaughter, but she was also a great student, teammate, sister, and friend who had a way to brighten up any room with her contagious laughter and kind heart.

While growing up, Cayley was great at academics as well as extra-curricular activities such as riding horses, playing the piano, acting in the theater, and being a Girl Scout. She was also into running around the Clear Lake neighborhood with her friends and hiking in different nations with her parents. She completed her school at Clear Creek High School in League City, Texas, in 2016. Moreover, the teenage cheerleader participated in one of the volunteer groups called Faithful Friends Animal Assisted Therapy Ministry. As a sophomore, she pursued studies in communications at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

Described as a beautiful young woman inside and out, Cayley was only a 19-year-old sophomore at Trinity University when she was brought into the hospital on October 29, 2017, in critical condition. At the time of admission, she was partially clothed, bruised, and unresponsive. It was alleged that the 19-year-old young woman had taken ecstasy at the music festival earlier that day and was soon declared dead at the hospital on October 31. The autopsy results showed that the cause of death was blunt force face and head trauma, which hinted towards the fact that she was murdered. Thus, the police launched an investigation and started looking for the person/s responsible for taking Cayley’s life.

Who Killed Cayley Mandadi?

Although it was Cayley Mandadi’s boyfriend, Mark Howerton, who brought her into the hospital in critical condition, the police did not stop considering him as one of the prime suspects. Upon interrogating Cayley Mandadi’s family members and loved ones, the investigators learned that she was at the Mala Luna music festival in San Antonio with her boyfriend, both of whom allegedly took ecstasy. When she saw her ex-boyfriend at the festival, it sparked an argument between the couple that continued into his car.

According to Mark, the couple was driving toward Houston but made a quick stop in the parking lot of a Valero gas station to engage in “make-up sex.” He claimed that after indulging in rough yet consensual intercourse, Cayley began feeling unwell and passed out in the car. As soon as they were about to reach Luling, he realized that she wasn’t breathing and claimed to have attempted CPR, right before admitting her to the hospital.

However, when the authorities double-questioned Mark, he changed his story various times. If that was not suspicious enough, his arms had scratches on them while, thanks to the cell evidence, the couple was found to be in an area that the boyfriend failed to mention. Moreover, by talking with other friends and family members of the 19-year-old woman, the investigators found out about his violent tendencies towards Cayley. One of her sorority sisters even said that she was terrified of him and didn’t know how to get out of the situation. The police also uncovered certain alleged violent incidents between the couple wherein Mark slammed Cayley’s head into a car window and destroyed her dorm room at Trinity.

After the dorm room incident, Mark was issued a criminal trespass order that prohibited him from entering the campus for an entire year. Besides that, the detectives got to know about many more stories of Mark’s use of violence towards Cayley during the course of their relationship. For instance, one of her sorority sisters revealed that he threatened to throw her off a balcony during an argument, while another claimed that he also threatened to shoot some of her ex-boyfriend’s frat brothers with his handgun. Supported by all these testimonies against him, the police were able to issue an arrest warrant against him, after which he turned himself in.

While he was charged with the murder of Cayley Mandadi, he maintained his innocence. A couple of years after her demise, in December 2019, Mark’s trial commenced. On one hand, the prosecutors alleged that he beat Cayley in his car, which eventually led to her death. On the other hand, the defense argued that the injuries inflicted on the victim were caused during the resuscitation efforts of the hospital staff. As a result, the jury failed to reach a verdict, and hence, it resulted in a mistrial.

After a few years, in May 2023, Mark stood trial for a second time, and this time around, the jury ended up finding him not guilty of murder but convicted him of aggravated assault. Thus, Mark received a 20-year imprisonment sentence for aggravated assault, causing serious bodily injuries to the 19-year-old cheerleader, Cayley Mandadi. Moreover, he was demanded to pay a fine of $10,000 to the victim’s parents and is prohibited from getting in touch with several people connected with the case.

Read More: Where Are Cayley Mandadi’s Parents Now?