Effort to overturn Mark Carver murder conviction progresses

GASTON COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - The Gaston County man convicted six years ago of killing a UNC-Charlotte college student along the Catawba River is one step closer to possibly getting a new trial.

Mark Carver is serving a life sentence for killing Ira Yarmolenko in 2008. Her body was found near her car along the banks of the river. It's believed she went to the river to take pictures for a class assignment.

Carver and his cousin, Neal Cassada, were both accused of the crime. Investigators said the cousins strangled the young woman and tried to push her car into the water. Cassada died of natural causes on the eve of his trial.

Both men said they were fishing nearby and that they never heard any commotion near where Yarmolenko died.

In Carver's case, attorney Chris Mumma says her client should get a new trial based on grounds of inadequate representation and issues with DNA evidence. Mumma is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence, which works to overturn wrongful convictions.

Gaston County prosecutors argued that DNA evidence from Yarmolenko's car put Carver at the scene; however, his DNA was not recovered from cords used to strangle her.

In court Monday, Mumma argued that the DNA evidence used at trial could have been tested under newer methods available at the time, but not required by the NC State Crime Lab. DNA analyst McKenzie Dehaan said the results produced "good science" and that analysts cannot go back and reinterpret those results based on the newer standards.

District Attorney Locke Bell and Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin tried to show the state lab worked within the required standards.

The two sides also battled over required discovery, which they say hasn't been turned over. Bell wants a list of witnesses and more medical records on Carver, which may detail his physical and mental challenges. Mumma said they are still waiting for case files from the previous defense attorney and for new DNA profiles of the investigating officers. If DNA from officers is found, it could support theories that evidence is contaminated and that Carver's DNA was transferred by touch to Yarmolenko's car by law enforcement.

It's also possible that DNA from the original case could be retested, if Judge David Lee gr ants Carver a new trial. Right now, Mumma said they are not asking to retest the DNA evidence. She said part of the basis for a new trial hinges on how the DNA evidence was analyzed when Carver was convicted.

Carver's previous defense attorney, Brent Ratchford, did not present any evidence on behalf of his client because he believed a conviction was unlikely.

Judge Lee scheduled another hearing for September 25th to decide whether Carver gets a new trial.

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