DNA test could free man in UNCC stu­dent’s killing, ad­vo­cates say

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY JOE MARUSAK [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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.

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.

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.”

TODD SUMLIN Char­lotte Ob­server file photo

This cross marks the spot where Ira Yar­molenko’s body was found on the Catawba River on May 5, 2008. Her car had crashed into a stump at the wa­ter’s edge.

ROBERT LAHSER Char­lotte Ob­server file photo

Mark Carver en­ters the court­room. “I’m100 per­cent sure we got the right guy,” De­tec­tive Derek Terry said.

Face­book

Irina Yar­molenko, 20, a UNCC stu­dent found dead on May 5, 2008, next to her car in Mount Holly.

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