Judge to weigh if state must turn over evidence in Mark Carver case

Updated: Apr. 19, 2017 at 12:30 PM EDT
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GASTON COUNTY, NC (Ames Alexander/Charlotte Observer) - A lawyer who contends Mark Carver was wrongly convicted of murdering UNC Charlotte student Ira Yarmolenko will appear before a judge Thursday to argue that the state has wrongly withheld evidence.

Chris Mumma, executive director of the N.C. Center for Actual Innocence, is seeking a new trial for Carver, arguing that his previous attorneys did not effectively represent him.

After the prosecution made its case in Carver's 2011 trial, the defense called no witnesses and presented no evidence. Carver, now 48, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

At Thursday morning's hearing in Gaston County, Mumma says she'll argue that "the state has been unwilling to give us a lot of what we believe we're entitled to by law."

Among the evidence that she said has not been turned over: electronic data from the DNA testing conducted in the case.

In a motion filed with the court last month, Mumma asked that prosecutors and law enforcement agencies involved in the case be ordered to turn over all evidence.

Gaston District Attorney Locke Bell could not be reached Monday afternoon. He has disputed all suggestions that Carver might be innocent

In a six-part series, "Death by the River," The Charlotte Observer raised questions about Carver's guilt and mapped out the defense that he never got.

On May 5, 2008, Yarmolenko was found dead in Mount Holly, on the banks of the Catawba River. The 20-year-old woman was lying beside her car with three bindings around her neck – a drawstring from her hoodie, a bungee cord and a blue ribbon.

Seven months later, police arrested Carver and Neal Cassada, two Gaston County men who were fishing near Yarmolenko the day she died.

Carver insists he didn't kill Yarmolenko – and that he didn't even see her or her car. He says he voluntarily spoke with police and allowed his cheeks to be swabbed for DNA testing. He repeatedly offered to take a polygraph, but was never given one. He was offered a deal to plead guilty to second-degree murder, which would have carried a prison sentence of eight to 14 years – but he turned it down.

Trace amounts of "touch DNA" were found on Yarmolenko's car that match both Carver and Cassada. The two men were then charged with first-degree murder.

Cassada died of a heart attack the day before his trial was set to begin.