Crime & Courts

Attorneys say investigators ignored 2 potential suspects in Ira Yarmolenko murder

Attorneys for convicted murderer Mark Carver says two alternative suspects in the strangulation of Ira Yarmolenko were spotted by witnesses but were never investigated by police or reported to the defense.

Yarmolenko, a UNC Charlotte student, was found on the banks of the Catawba River May 5, 2008, three days after her 20th birthday.

Carver, a Gaston County man who was fishing downstream, was convicted of her murder in 2011 and is serving a mandatory life sentence without parole. Carver’s cousin was also charged with murder but died of a heart attack before his trial.

Three days after her 20th birthday, UNCC student Ira Yarmolenko was found strangled on the banks of the Catawba River. Attorneys for her convicted killer say witnesses have placed two other men near the crime scene on the day of her death.

Defense attorney Chris Mumma has asked that the original verdict against her client be thrown out, saying in part that the DNA evidence used to tie Carver to the murder scene would not stand up to the enhanced testing methods available today and that Carver’s trial attorneys provided an incompetent defense.

The lingering questions surrounding the case were the subject of a 2016 Observer investigation, “Death by the River.”

Now in a new document, Mumma, the executive director of the North Carolina Center for Actual Innocence, claims that the investigators’ “rush to judgment” led them to largely ignore witness reports that two other men were seen near the crime scene.

That information, she says, may have led Carver’s jurors to a different verdict.

Carol Ingle was on her lunch break when she saw a car speeding down N.C. 273 and turning toward the YMCA in Mount Holly, not far from where Yarmolenko’s body was found, the defense document says. The car was blue, like Yarmolenko’s, and was being driven by a young, stocky white male.

Thirty minutes later, Ingle says she saw the same man walking along the highway in the opposite direction, the document says. Ingle reported what she saw to a Gaston County police investigator involved in the case but never heard back.

Carver’s original defense team did not learn of Ingle’s account until after the verdict. Mumma says in her filing that she has spoken with Ingle and “her memory remains consistent ... Ms. Ingle is certain that the young man she saw walking down the road was the same individual she saw driving the car.”

Mumma also accuses investigators of withholding evidence provided by another potential witness, Angel Beatty.

According to the new filing, Beatty told a law enforcement officer that “she saw a black male running up the hill” from the general direction of the murder scene who was “wet with water or sweat and had a book bag underneath his arm.”

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Eight years later, Beatty says she was told by another county resident that on the day of the killing, Mount Holly police had stopped a black male running down N.C. 273 who “was carrying a laptop computer and was soaking wet: they were not sure if it was sweat or water,” the document says. Afterward, Beatty again contacted Mount Holly police but says she never heard back.

Mumma says there is no indication in the case file that either the prosecution or the defense was notified about the information from Beatty.

Carver’s prosecutor, Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell, did not immediately respond to Observer emails seeking comment. He has said repeatedly that Carver killed Yarmolenko, a conviction upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2013.

Mumma told the Observer that Carver’s attorneys should have heard about any other potential suspects in Yarmolenko’s death and allowed to question them. That they did not is another example of the flawed police work that she says plagued the case from the start.

“Because of a sloppy investigation and a rush to judgment, some of these leads are lost,” she said.

She is asking Superior Court Judge Christopher Bragg of Union County to either throw out Carver’s conviction or order a new trial.

A hearing on that request has not been scheduled.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS
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