• Judge: Decision to be made by June in case of man convicted of killing UNCC student

    By: Ken Lemon , Dave Faherty

    Updated:

    MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. - Mark Carver, the man convicted of murdering a University of North Carolina Charlotte student more than a decade ago, has maintained his innocence and is hoping his case will be overturned.

    Carver is serving life in prison for the murder of Ira Yarmolenko.

    Video of a police interrogation could be the difference in Carver's life sentence.


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    Attorneys for the Center for Actual Innocence played the video for a judge last week.

    In it, Carver can be seen being interviewed by investigators who said they found his DNA on Yarmolenko’s car.

    Carver and his cousin, Neal Cassada, were fishing near an area where Yarmolenko's body was found on the banks of the Catawba River in 2008.

    She was strangled and her body was found next to her car. Both men were charged with murder.

    Cassada died the day before his trial.

    Carver's DNA wasn't in the car, according to prosecution experts in the 2011 trial. Some of his DNA was found on the outside of the car. Neither Carver nor Cassada's DNA was on the items used to strangle her.

    In the video, investigators tell Carver how tall Yarmolenko is compared to their suspect.

    Attorneys fighting to free Carver claim the video could have led to a not-guilty verdict.

    They said that his trial attorneys didn't give Carver proper representation.


    April 12: Carver's attorneys to make closing remarks

    Attorneys for the man convicted of murdering a UNC Charlotte student made closing remarks Friday morning in an attempt to get him a new trial.

    Judge Bragg told attorneys Friday that he will make his decision by early June after receiving eight days of testimoney and evidence. 

    Attorneys said his decision is not based on the initial verdict, but it is based on whether there are new factors not considered at the trial that could have changed the verdict. 

    Mark Carver's friend Melanie Brafford said she felt positive leaving the hearing after waiting eight years for it. 

    "I'm very positive the evidence has finally come out to prove him innocent," Brafford said. "There is just no way he could have done it. He's just a good man." 

    Mark Carver gave only two-word answers to six brief questions from his attorney on Thursday. He said he never saw Ira Yarmolenko in 2008.

    Autopsy results showed Yarmolenko was strangled. Her body was found next to her car near where Carver was fishing on the Catawba River.

    Attorneys for the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence argued that Carver's trial attorneys failed to present evidence about Carver's low IQ, which would have challenged him during police interviews and left out physical limitations that they say would have made it impossible for Carver to strangle Yarmolenko. 

    District Attorney Locke Bell said Carver's attorneys did all they could, but jurors didn't follow their strategy. 

    "He got a fair trial. In that case, every time a lawyer lost, they would get a new trial because their strategy didn't work, let's try something else," Bell said. 

    Yarmolenko's brother was in the courtroom the last two days and watched the hearing quietly. 

    "They are having to relieve the horror and thsi is very very sad," Bell said. 


    April 11: Man convicted of killing UNCC student takes the stand

    The man convicted of murdering a UNC Charlotte student in 2008 took the stand Thursday morning in his fight for a new trial.

    Mark Carver answered only five questions from his attorneys. His defense team wanted to show that his trial attorneys tried to get Carver to make incriminating admissions.

    Carver's attorney asked, "Did you ever see Ira Yarmolenko at the Catawba River dead or alive?"

    Carver answered, "No ma'am."

    "Did you ever touch Ira Yarmolenko in any way?"

    Carver said, "No ma'am."

    They are hoping for a retrial for the murder of Ira Yarmolenko, who was strangled in 2008. Her body was found near her car on the banks of the Catawba River, near an area where Carver was fishing.

    Police reportedly found Carver's DNA on the student's car near the river, and the attorneys who defended him at trial accepted that as an explainable fact.

    Carver, though, said he never touched the vehicle. 

    On Thursday, his attorney went on to ask, "Did your attorney try to get you to admit that you touched the car?"

    Carver said, "Yes ma'am."

    During Carver's trial in 2011, attorneys never called him to the stand.

    On Thursday, Carver was questioned by one of the prosecutors who helped to convict him. He was confused at times and contradicted his statements to police.

    Prosecutors tried to show that even if Carver was called to testify during the trial, his testimony would not have led to a not guilty verdict.

    Ira Yarmolenko's brother was in court to hear Carver's testimony. He didn't comment, but after Carver's conviction eight years ago, he told Channel 9 he felt the court delivered justice for his sister.

    Closing arguments will begin Friday. 


    April 8: Expert testifies DNA evidence shouldn't have been used in UNCC student's murder trial

    Experts unleashed new testimony Monday when a DNA expert testified the state's own crime lab findings shouldn't have been used during the first trial of the murder of a UNC Charlotte student. 

    Dr. Maher Noureddine testified for hours, spending much of his time on the sample collected from a door frame of the victim's car that the state said matched Mark Carver's DNA. 

    Attorney Christine Mumma told Channel 9 one of the biggest hurdles left in the murder conviction of Carver was the DNA evidence that led to his conviction in 2011. 

    Carver, along with his cousin Neal Cassada, were fishing along the Catawba River in 2008, when UNCC student Ira Yarmolenko was strangled. 

    Attorneys for the Center for Actual Innocence are presenting evidence explaining how Carver, who has mental and physical limitations, couldn’t have committed the murder.

    Police testified during his 2011 trial that Carver's DNA was found on the outside of Yarmolenko's car. Monday, Noureddine testified the state crime lab's conclusions are invalid. 

    Noureddine testified that the profile was missing a lot of information and should not have been used in the conviction. 

    The Stanley police chief, who worked for Mount Holly in 2008, also testified Monday. He said he recalled on the day of Yarmolenko's murder seeing a light-skinned black male with a computer bag walking near the crime scene. 

    A neighbor also described seeing someone matching that description. When later asked to give his opinion about the case, he expressed concerns about DNA evidence and that the murder was "overkill," possibly the work of a serial killer. 

     


    April 5: Fingerprint, DNA evidence focus of hearing for man convicted of killing UNCC student

    Fingerprint and DNA evidence were the focus of a hearing Friday in Gaston County, where a man convicted of killing a UNCC student in 2008 is fighting for his freedom. 

    Much of Friday's testimony involved decisions made by the lead prosecutor in the case Bill Stetzer. He took the stand and talked about the evidence like a bungee cord that was used to murder Ira Yarmolenko. 

     Stetzer was questioned for more than two hours about his decision to seek justice against Mark Carver. 

    Attorneys for the Center for Actual Innocence trying to win Carver's freedom claim he had ineffective counsel during his trial and was not mentally or physically able to commit the crime. 

    "For me, the most important aspect is was the prosecution trying to reach justice in the case or just trying to win a case," defense attorney Christine Mumma said. 

    Officials said Carver was fishing with his cousin Neal Cassada on the day of the murder. Stetzer testified Friday Carver was charged partly because of his proximity to the crime scene, his violent history, and his DNA was found on Yarmolenko's car. 

    The person who collected the evidence, however, testified, that DNA wasn't collected until two months after the murder and none of the fingerprint evidence found on the car matched Carver's. 

    "He's just not that kind of person in my opinion," friend Donald Miller said. "Hope for that he gets out. He's not a person who needs to be where he is. He needs to be home." 


    April 4: Convicted murderer to testify for first time, attorney says

    Attorneys for convicted killer Mark Carver told Channel 9 Thursday Carver plans to testify for the first time about what he and his cousin, Neal Cassada were doing when UNCC student Ira Yarmolenko was strangled to death along the Catawba River. 

    Channel 9's Dave Faherty spoke to Carver's attorney Thursday as she headed into court. 

    "He's doing great. He's a positive person," defense attorney Christine Mumma said. 

    Attorneys for the Center of Actual Innocence are trying to win Carver's freedom, claiming he had an ineffective counsel during his trial and was not mentally or physically able to commit a crime. 

    Carver along with his cousin was fishing along the Catawba River when the murder happened in 2008. Police believe Yarmolenko had come to the river to take photos, but never made it back to UNCC's campus. 

    Some of Carver's DNA was found on her car, but his attorney showed video Thursday of crime scene investigators appearing to touch the vehicle without wearing evidence gloves. 

    Nearly two dozen family members of Carver's showed up in court Thursday as an investigator from Mount Holly testified Carver gave different descriptions of Yarmolenko and incorrectly told police how she may have died after first telling authorities he never met her. 

    Police also admitted there were 24 people at the crime scene, but no log was ever made of those individuals. 

    "In my heart, I hope and pray he gets through this and gets another trial," mother-in-law Kathy Scott said."

    Officials said it is possible testimony will last into next week. 


    April 2: Convicted murderer’s IQ is low, inhibiting interrogations, attorneys say

    Attorneys from the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence said police mishandled the scene from the moment Yarmolenko's body was found on the banks of the Catawba River next to her car.

    Carver's team said if police controlled the scene, this is a case that should have never gone to trial.

    The team put up an expert in the Gaston County Courthouse Tuesday, who said Carver had an extremely low IQ and likely couldn't follow investigators during interrogations.

    They said, in his trial, attorneys never brought up evidence of his physical and mental limitations, which would have made it impossible to commit murder. Prosecutors said Carver had a violent nature, even shooting his own son. His son is expected to testify for his father.


    April 1: Man convicted of killing UNCC student hopes case will be overturned

    There were prayers in the hallway of the Gaston County Courthouse Tuesday morning for Carver. His attorneys argued that police mishandled evidence and Carver should have never been charged or tried for murder.

    Carver’s attorney said his client’s trial lawyers failed to mention physical and mental limitations that would have made it impossible for Carver to commit the crime.

    The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence filed a motion to test DNA found under Yarmolenko's fingernails in an effort to show she struggled with someone else before she was strangled 11 years ago.

    They announced Monday that there wasn't enough DNA left to test and said they won't give up the fight.

    There was anger and frustration when jurors convicted Carver of murder in 2011.

    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    (Mark Carver)

    "What trial were you at because the evidence was not there?" Carver’s attorney Brent Ratchford said.

    After Carver’s arrest and while in jail, he said he was innocent.

    "There ain't no way I did it," Carver said.

    Carver and his cousin, Neil Cassada, were fishing nearby when the UNC Charlotte student's body was found strangled next to her car on the banks of the Catawba River in Mount Holly.

    DNA from both men was on Yarmolenko's car, but she had someone else's DNA under her fingernails.

    © 2019 Cox Media Group.

    (Ira Yarmolenko)

    The attorney for the Center of Actual Innocence hoped that DNA and further testing of cellphones found in Yarmolenko's car might point to another suspect.

    They have been fighting for new evidence for years.

    "We think all of the evidence against him has been discredited," said Chris Mumma, Center for Actual Innocence.

    Tom Taylor is a former prosecutor in Gaston County, who was a district court judge and now is a defense attorney. He said it is difficult to overturn a conviction.

    "You don't want to retry and retry and retry every case, but you want to give consideration to whether it should be tried," Taylor said.

    He said new evidence presented must be evidence that could have proven Carver was innocent during the trial.

    "Or some very serious constitutional issue, and I'm not aware of that in this case, so it would surprise me if it was vacated," Taylor said.

    Cassada was also charged with Yarmelenko's murder. He died of a heart attack the day before his trial was scheduled to begin in 2010.

    Cassada had also always said he was innocent.

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