Defense in disputed murder case wants Gaston DA punished for withholding evidence

Defense in disputed murder case wants Gaston DA punished for withholding evidence

CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - The defense team in the disputed murder conviction of Mark Carver have asked a judge to hold prosecutor Locke Bell in contempt of court for failing to turn over promised evidence.

Chris Mumma says in a motion filed Tuesday that Bell, the Gaston County district attorney who helped convict Carver for the 2008 murder of UNC Charlotte student Irina Yarmolenko, continues to ignore a court order that he share his complete files with the defense.

Superior Court Judge David Lee of Union County issued the ruling during an April 20 court hearing in which Mumma accused Bell of withholding key evidence. Lee signed his order on May 11, giving both sides 20 days to comply.

Mumma, executive director of North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, says that deadline has come and gone. Six months after she says Bell was required by law to share all evidence, Mumma says she has received none.

Neither Bell nor Mumma could be immediately reached for comment Wednesday morning.

In an earlier interview, the outspoken Gaston County prosecutor says he remains convinced of Carver's guilt.

In an April interview with the Observer, Mumma described Bell as "uncooperative and unwilling to consider that an injustice could have occurred."

Carver, 48, is serving a life sentence without parole after his 2011 conviction for strangling Yarmolenko. Her body was found near her car in Mount Holly, on the banks of the Catawba River. Carver and his cousin were fishing downstream at the time.

The cousin died the day before his murder trial was to start. Carver was convicted by a Gaston County jury in 2011 and sentenced to life without parole.

Mumma is seeking a new trial, arguing that Carver received an inadequate defense and that key pieces of evidence used to convict him would not stand up to updated testing and new information uncovered in the case. In particular, Mumma claims that far more conclusive testing and reporting of DNA will undermine the prosecution's contention that Carver's genetic material was found on Yarmolenko's car.

She also says Carver's statements to police indicating that he knew the victim's height can be challenged by interrogation video – never seen by a jury – that shows he was coached into giving the description by a detective.

Last year, the Observer published "Death by the River," a six-part series raising questions about Carver's guilt.

Mumma and Bell have been wrangling for months over evidence. North Carolina is known as an "open-file discovery" state in which the law requires attorneys to turn over their complete files to the opposing side. In response to one of Mumma's earlier requests, Bell asked Mumma in writing to cite the portion of state law that compelled him "to do your research for you."

During the April hearing, Bell told Lee that new DNA testing would not disprove older methods that had confirmed Carver's DNA was found on Yarmolenko's car.

Lee, though, ordered that the DNA evidence collected in 2008 undergo new analysis by the state lab. Lee also elicited promises from Bell and Mumma that they would exchange all evidence before any hearing on the defense request for a new trial takes place, perhaps as early as August.

"My only concern is: Does everybody have everything that's out there?" Lee said.

Two months later, according to Mumma, the answer remains no.