The N.C. Supreme Court on Friday upheld Mark Carvers conviction for the 2008 murder of UNC Charlotte student Irina Yarmolenko.
A Gaston County jury convicted Carver in 2011 of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Yarmolenko, a 20-year-old sophomore nicknamed Ira, was found strangled near her car on an overgrown embankment along the Catawba River. Wrapped around her neck were a bungee cord, a ribbon and a drawstring from her sweatshirt. She had reportedly gone to the river to shoot photos of kayakers that day in May 2008.
Carver, now 44, had gone fishing in that area. His DNA was found on Yarmolenkos car but not on her body or on the bindings used to kill her.
Twelve jurors, the trial judge, the N.C. Court of Appeals and now the N.C. Supreme Court have all reviewed this case and found there was enough evidence to convict Mark Carver of Iras murder, Bill Stetzer, who prosecuted Carver, told the Observer Friday.
Ira was a daughter to Helen and Sergie, a sister to Pavel, and a friend to many. She was a student, a photographer and an adventurer. She was a remarkable person. I pray she now rests in peace.
Gaston County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin said: The decision of 12 jurors who heard all the evidence has once again been validated. Hopefully, the Yarmolenko family can finally begin to heal.
Prosecutors called no witnesses to Yarmolenkos killing during Carvers trial. They suggested during closing arguments that Yarmolenko may have photographed something Carver didnt want on film.
This was one of the toughest cases Ive ever worked, Stetzer told the Observer after Carvers conviction. The DNA evidence conclusively placed him at the scene not far from the victims body. But his DNA was not found on the murder weapons. Thats what made it challenging.
But we present the evidence we have not the evidence we wish we had, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Brent Ratchford said the jury was flat-out wrong.
They put an innocent man in jail, the defense attorney said.
Carver and his cousin Neal Cassada were charged seven months after the killing. Cassada, 54, died in 2010 of natural causes on the eve of his trial.
The Supreme Court upheld Carvers conviction without issuing a formal opinion.
The N.C. Court of Appeals upheld Carvers conviction last June. The appeals court judges acknowledged that there was only circumstantial evidence to show Carver committed the murder but pointed to his statements that he was never at the scene or touched any part of it.
Carvers denial and the DNAs contradiction thereof are sufficient to establish that the DNA could only have been left at the time the offense was committed, the appeals court judges ruled.
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