Incarcerated for 6 years and counting
Mark Carver was convicted on March 21, 2011 for the murder of UNC-Charlotte student Irina Yarmolenko and sentenced to life in prison. The victim’s body was found on an embankment of the Catawba River a hundred yards from the spot where Mr. Carver and his cousin, Neal Cassada, had been fishing. Although there was no clear evidence of guilt, both men were charged with Ms. Yarmolenko’s murder. Mr. Cassada died as a result of pre-existing heart problems the day before his trial.
On May 5, 2008, two jet skiers discovered Ms. Yarmolenko’s body on the ground next to her car, which was at the bottom of an embankment where it had become snagged on a stump at the river’s edge. Three ligatures were around her neck, all of which came from within her vehicle.
Mr. Carver was approached by an officer while fishing about 100 yards downriver, shook his hand, and provided the officer with his ID. He informed the officer that he had not seen or heard anything and that Mr. Cassada had been there earlier that day.
Mr. Carver and Mr. Cassada voluntarily provided their DNA and fingerprints to law enforcement.
The State Crime Lab found that:
(1) A partial DNA profile obtained from above the driver’s side rear door of Ms. Yarmolenko’s vehicle was consistent with a DNA mixture, meaning more than one profile was present, and the predominant DNA profile matched Mr. Carver.
(2) Mr. Carver’s DNA could not be excluded from the partial DNA profile obtained from the seat belt button of the passenger side back seat.
(3) Swabs from the front passenger door armrest and the interior side front passenger door glass revealed profiles consistent with a mixture. The predominant DNA profile from those locations matched Mr. Cassada.
Mr. Carver and Mr. Cassada’s DNA were excluded from all other evidence collected at the crime scene, including the ligatures used to murder Ms. Yarmolenko. On December 12, 2008, Mr. Carver and Mr. Cassada were arrested for the murder of Ms. Yarmolenko. Despite their arrests, DNA from ten alternate suspects was tested and a Crime Stoppers advertisement continued to run. Some of the testing of alternate suspects even occurred after trial dates had been set in the case.
Carver’s attorneys did not present any evidence at trial. They relied entirely on cross-examination of the State’s expert witnesses to defend him. Had they consulted with a competent forensic scientist, they would have learned that in April 2010, almost a year before Mr. Carver’s trial, the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods published updated guidelines for interpretation and reporting of DNA mixtures that were relevant to the evidence presented at trial. Had the DNA testing been reported using the appropriate guidelines, none of it would have been reported as “matching” Mr. Carver.
Mr. Carver has always maintained his innocence. He has always denied touching or going anywhere near the car. This was the first case in North Carolina where an appellate court considered “touch” DNA evidence.
The Center has been investigating Mr. Carver’s case since 2013. Based on DNA evidence, as well as the identification of a number of other investigative flaws, on December 8, 2016, the Center filed a Motion for Appropriate Relief on behalf of Mr. Carver. The judge granted an evidentiary hearing, which is scheduled to begin on April 1, 2019.