MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. — A judge has ordered a new trial for the man convicted of killing a University of North Carolina at Charlotte student more than a decade ago.
Mark Carver has maintained his innocence while serving a life sentence for the murder of Ira Yarmolenko.
On Wednesday, a judge decided to set aside Carver’s conviction and allow a new trial. He said Carver’s lawyer made several mistakes during the initial trial.
While leaving court, Carver's father told Gaston County reporter Ken Lemon, “Looks good.”
His son has been in prison for eight years.
"I just wanted to shout. I want to cry. I want to smile. I want to laugh. I just want Mark home. It's time for an innocent man to come home,” Carver’s family friend, Melanie Bradford, said.
"I'm elated,” Carver’s mother-in-law, Kathy Scott, said.
The judge said Brent Ratchford, Carver's trial attorney in 2011, didn't consider the fact that Carver had the IQ of an elementary school-aged child.
He said Ratchford also didn't show evidence of his carpal tunnel syndrome, which Carver's new attorney said would have made it impossible for him to strangle Yarmolenko.
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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.
Investigators said 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.
The judge said Ratchford didn't properly investigate touch DNA, Carver's only connection to the crime scene.
He also said testing of the DNA found on Yarmolenko's car was "doubtful at best."
District Attorney Locke Bell disagreed.
“What the judge never addressed was how that would have changed things,” Bell said.
He said his team would have countered those arguments at trial and still gotten a conviction.
"As I respect the judge, I think the judge was wrong,” Bell said.
The decision was great news for the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence. The group has been fighting to overturn Carver's conviction.
"He is definitely innocent, 100 percent," Carver’s attorney, Chris Mumma, said.
Three other former convicts exonerated by the center stood behind Mumma on Wednesday.
"The murderer of Ira Yarmolenko has not been charged and is still out there,” Mumma said.
The DA plans to appeal the judge’s decision and have the conviction upheld.
Channel 9 contacted Carver’s trial attorney. He said he always believed Carver was not guilty, and he congratulated the new defense team.
He wouldn’t discuss the points the judge called his failures at trial.
John Little was a juror and said if he had heard the testimony the judge mentioned on Wednesday, the outcome could have been different.
“If you had an opportunity today to say something to the judge, what would you say?” Channel 9’s Ken Lemon asked.
“Set him free,” Little said.
Little said he has a bit of comfort knowing the judge’s decision.
“It drums on me that knowing and thinking that I could possibly have put a man in prison for the rest of his life and he didn’t do it,” Little said.
He believes Carver was a scapegoat.
“They were just looking for somebody to convict, and Mr. Carver was unfortunately fishing that day," Little said.
Carver's attorney has to file paperwork to have him transferred from prison to the Gaston County Jail, where supporters are ready to cover his $100,000 bond.
He's expected to walk out of jail in the next few days.
It's unclear when the new trial will be.
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