DNA test could free man in UNCC student’s killing, advocates say
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.”
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.
Mark Carver enters the courtroom. “I’m100 percent sure we got the right guy,” Detective Derek Terry said.
Irina Yarmolenko, 20, a UNCC student found dead on May 5, 2008, next to her car in Mount Holly.