Court upholds murder conviction in death of Ira Yarmolenko - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Court upholds murder conviction in death of Ira Yarmolenko

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

The North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld a Gaston County man's murder conviction.

In 2011, a jury found Mark Carver guilty of murder in the 2008 death of a UNC Charlotte student.

Carver was sentenced to life in prison, with no parole.

His appeal was heard January 8, 2013.

A court filing that just came down today shows "no error in defendant's trial".

That means Carver will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Ira Yarmolenko's body was discovered in May 2008 along the Catawba River in Gaston County, not far from where her car was found.

Carver and his cousin, Neal Cassada, were later charged.

Cassada died of natural causes in 2010, one day before his trial was scheduled to begin. His family blamed the stress of the charges and court case for his sudden death.

From the beginning, Cassada and Carver both said they were in the area fishing the day Yarmolenko was killed, but said they did not kill her.

Yarmolenko was strangled, a bungee cord found wrapped around her neck.

Carver's attorney theorized Yarmolenko committed suicide, because the ribbon was tied in a bow around her neck, and there were no scratch marks on her neck from fighting. He also said there was no DNA found on her body.

Prosecutor Bill Stetzer called the suicide theory "ridiculous". He pointed to DNA on Yarmolenko's car – DNA from both men, showing the men were on opposite sides of the vehicle.

Investigators believe Yarmolenko drove to the river to take pictures, and think she may have taken a picture of something the men didn't want her to see.

Stetzer said the man snapped, and strangled Yarmolenko, then tried to push her car down a hill to hide it. But the vehicle hit a stump, preventing it from going all the way down the embankment.

During the 2011 trial, the prosecutor also said the men tried to throw Yarmolenko's body into the river, but her body didn't sink, so they pulled her back out.

Stetzer says that's why the men's DNA wasn't on the murder weapon – because it washed away.

"DNA can prove that you touched something, but can't prove that you didn't," Stetzer said.

Two experts testified about the men's DNA on the vehicle, but said an unidentified person's DNA was found on the bungee cord that was around Yarmolenko's neck.

That person has never been identified.

During the trial, a North Carolina Highway Patrol trooper testified to analyzing the "black box" which records data in vehicles.

He said Yarmolenko's car did not record any such data when it went down the embankment. That implied Yarmolenko's car was not running when it went down the hill, because the box only records data if the car is running.

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