New trial ordered for man convicted in college student death
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A man serving a life sentence for the murder of a college student should get a new trial because of ineffective counsel and questions about DNA evidence, a North Carolina judge ruled Wednesday.
A judge ruled that Mark Carver should get a new trial for his conviction in the death of 20-year-old Ira Yarmolenko, who was a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said Carver’s attorney, Chris Mumma. Yarmolenko was found dead in 2008 on the banks of the Catawba River in Gaston County.
Carver, 51, didn’t understand the judge’s ruling as it was spoken in the courtroom, Mumma said. Testimony during a two-week hearing in April showed that he has an IQ of 61 and the reading level of an average first-grader, The Charlotte Observer reported .
When she explained to him what had happened, Carver said ”‘that’s good,’ and he started to cry,” said Mumma, executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.
Carver has maintained his innocence and testified at the hearing in April that he didn’t kill Yarmolenko.
Yarmolenko’s body was found on the ground next to her car, which was at the bottom of an embankment, and about 100 yards from the area where Carver and his cousin, Neal Cassada, were fishing. They were both charged with first-degree murder in the death of Yarmolenko, who was found with a ribbon, a bungee cord and a drawstring wrapped around her neck.
Cassada died of a heart attack before his trial was to begin, and Carver was convicted in 2011.
Mumma challenged Carver’s conviction on several fronts, including the representation provided by his trial attorneys and advances in DNA evidence. For example, State Crime Lab said it found Carver’s DNA in a genetic mixture on Yarmolenko’s car and Cassada’s DNA in another mixture on her car, the innocence center website says .
She argued at the April hearing that the DNA evidence from the lab didn’t meet the scientific standards updated in April 2010, before Carver’s trial began, and that his attorneys would have known that if they had consulted with a forensic scientist.
After Wednesday’s hearing, Carver was to be returned to a state prison. Once Superior Court Judge Christopher Bragg signs his order, Carver can eventually post a $100,000 bond and be released on house arrest, Mumma said.
District Attorney Locke Bell told media outlets that he plans to appeal the ruling. After the hearing in April, Bell told t he Gaston Gazette that he remained convinced of Carver’s guilt.
“I’ve never wavered,” he said. “And looking at all this evidence I still believe he’s guilty.”
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