On March 21, 2001, A Gaston County Jury convicted Mark Carver of the 2008 first-degree murder of Irina Yarmolenko, which occurred near the Catawba River. Ms. Yarmolenko was a UNC Charlotte student who went to the river to shoot photos of kayakers on the day in question. According to Mr. Carver, he was fishing in the area with his cousin, Neal Cassada that day. Mr. Cassada, who was also charged with the crime, died last year a day before his trial was to begin.
Mr. Carver was represented by David Phillips and Brent Ratchford. The key evidence in the trial was DNA evidence from the Defendant that was present on Ms. Yarmolenko's vehicle. Notably, Mr. Carver's DNA was not present on the victim's body or on the bindings used to kill her. Her body was discovered near the vehicle.
The prosecution suggested to the jury that the Defendant attacked Ms. Yarmolenko because she photographed him doing something he didn't want revealed. The prosecution also questioned the Defendant's prior statement that he had never seen Ms. Yarmolenko, which seemed contradicted by the presence of his DNA on her vehicle. The defense suggested that Ms. Yarmolenko may have committed suicide.
The jury only deliberated six hours before returning the guilty verdict. Some have questioned defense counsel's strategy of presenting no witnesses. Mr. Ratchford responded "I think they wanted to find someone responsible for the murder," he said. "And my client was the one in the courtroom." Mr. Ratchford noted the State has the burden of proving the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. He felt the State's case was weak.