DNA could exonerate man convicted of killing UNCC student from Chapel Hill, advocates say

Mark Carver’s attorney on disputed DNA testing in his case

Chris Mumma will argue in September that Carver, convicted of the 2008 slaying of Irina Yarmolenko, deserves a new trial or that his charges should be dropped.
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Chris Mumma will argue in September that Carver, convicted of the 2008 slaying of Irina Yarmolenko, deserves a new trial or that his charges should be dropped.

A new DNA test could exonerate a man convicted of killing a 20-year-old UNC Charlotte student on the banks of the Catawba River in Mount Holly in 2008, advocates with the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence say in court documents.

Irina Yarmolenko of Chapel Hill was found strangled beside her car on an overgrown embankment, The Charlotte Observer previously reported. A bungee cord, a ribbon and a drawstring from her sweatshirt were wrapped around her neck.

Ira Yarmolenko
Irina Yarmolenko, 20, a UNCC student found dead on May 5, 2008, next to her car on the bank of the Catawba River in Mount Holly. Facebook

Mark Bradley Carver was convicted of first-degree murder of the Chapel Hill High School graduate in 2011 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Carver was fishing at the river with his cousin, Neal Cassada, who also was charged with murder. Cassada died of a heart attack before his trial started.

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Mark Carver enters the courtroom. “I’m 100 percent sure we got the right guy,” Detective Derek Terry said after the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence took on Carver’s case. ROBERT LAHSER Charlotte Observer file photo

Prosecutors offered evidence that Carver’s DNA was found on Yarmolenko’s car, the Observer reported. Carver has always maintained his innocence, saying he never saw or had contact with Yarmolenko.

Superior Court Judge C.W. Bragg recently granted the center’s request, filed in February, to perform a type of DNA test known as Y-STR on Yarmolenko’s fingernail scrapings, which are kept at the Mount Holly Police Department, court documents show.

According to Bragg’s findings of fact in response to the center’s request, “Y-STR DNA testing will isolate the male contributor of the samples, which may be significantly more accurate and probative of the identity of the perpetrator.

“If the Y-STR DNA testing being requested had been conducted on the evidence at the time of the initial investigation, there exists a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been more favorable to Defendant,” Bragg said in his order.

The judge ordered the Mount Holly Police Department to transfer the fingernail scrapings to a Virginia testing firm. Bragg ordered Carver, who court records show is indigent, to pay for the testing.

The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence is requesting donations on Facebook toward the $5,000 needed to get the tests done in time for an April 2 court hearing.

In 2002, North Carolina became the first state to form an Actual Innocence Commission. Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. and Christine Mumma, the center’s executive director, were instrumental in establishing the commission, according to the center’s website.

The center “oversees innocence projects at North Carolina law schools and provides legal services to indigent, unrepresented North Carolina inmates claiming factual innocence,” according to the center’s website.

The center has investigated Carver’s case since 2013 and has raised about $2,200 from 34 donors for the expedited DNA testing, according to its Facebook page.

“We strongly believe in Mr. Carver’s innocence, and we appreciate any contribution you can make!“ the center posted.

Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell told the Gaston Gazette “he remains confident Carver will remain in prison.”

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.