The ex-boyfriend of slain Trinity University student Cayley Mandadi told a jury Friday that he last saw her when Mark Howerton put his arm around her and pulled her away the night she was to end it with Howerton, who is accused of killing her in a jealous rage.
Jett Birchum, a former Trinity University student, said he dated Mandadi for about nine months before she met Howerton. He admitted Mandadi was on-and-off with both men at the same time, but before her death, decided she wanted to get back with Birchum.
She told me she was trying to end the relationship, Birchum told the jury in the fifth day of proceedings in the trial.
He mentioned once that while they were together, Howerton kept texting and calling Mandadi, and sent her a video that Birchum said he saw because she handed him the phone.
I had seen a Snapchat. He was holding his gun and putting it in his mouth, saying, This is your fault, Birchum told the jury.
He said he had sex with Mandadi before a football game Oct. 28, 2017, and saw her the next day to have lunch before Howerton picked her up from her dorm to take her to the Mala Luna Music Festival.
She told me she wanted to break up with Mark, let him down easy, and that they could just be friends, he told the panel. She told me she was planning on breaking up with him at Mala Luna because there would be witnesses all around.
Birchum said he went to the festival and saw from a distance Howerton as he pulled her away. He tried to call Mandadi, but she did not pick up. He attempted to follow them, but lost them in the crowd, he told the jury.
Testimony has established that Howerton and Mandadi had been drinking heavily and doing MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly, a mood-altering drug. The pair argued over Birchum at the music festival Oct. 29.
That night, Howerton said he persuaded her to go to Houston with him, and at some point she stopped breathing in his car and he drove her to a hospital in Luling.
Since she was unresponsive and covered in bruises from head to toe, doctors there decided to transport her to a Kyle hospital, where she was declared brain dead Oct. 30. She died Oct. 31 after being taken off life support.
From the start of Birchums testimony, defense attorney John T. Hunter objected and attempted to discredit Birchums statements because he was offered immunity by the district attorneys office in exchange for his testimony to the grand jury. Hence, Birchum could not be implicated in any charges.
A grand jury weighs evidence and determines whether charges should be brought against a suspect prior to a trial.
Hunter asked Birchum, who now attends Texas State University, if he was on probation at the time of Mandadis death.
No sir, he said, adding that his community supervision for a drug charge out of Fort Bend County concluded in February 2018.
Hunter then cross-examined Birchum over photographs extracted from his phone that showed cocaine and bags of marijuana.
Were you providing marijuana to students at Trinity University? Hunter asked.
Birchum, under the direction of his attorney, J. Charles Bunk, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination about a dozen times.
Another witness, Joseph Goodwin, testifying for the state, told the jury he went with Mandadi and Howerton to the music festival and did MDMA with them while there.
He said Howerton was angry because Mandadi was not ready when they went to pick her up Oct. 29 to go to the event. He said they did not speak on the way there.
Goodwin said he last saw the pair at 3:30 p.m. that day.
They were about 10 feet behind me. Mark said he was going to get drinks near the entrance. Thats the last time I saw them, Goodwin told the jury.
If convicted, Howerton faces up to life in prison.
Testimony continues Monday in 144th state District Court, Visiting Judge Raymond Angelini presiding.
Elizabeth Zavala covers county and state courts in San Antonio. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @elizabeth2863
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Testimony: Slain Trinity University student had plans to break up with boyfriend to go back to her ex - San Antonio Express-News
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