Episode 052 - The Murder of Irina Yarmolenko

Irina Yarmolenko Trace Evidence

Twenty year old Irina "Ira" Yarmolenko was finishing up her sophomore semester at UNC Charlotte in May of 2008.  She planned to begin her junior year at UNC Chapel Hill where she would pursue a career in Public Health, an area near and dear to her kind and compassionate sensibility.  Tragically, Ira would never begin her junior year.

On May 5th, 2008, just days after her twentieth birthday, Ira began her day by taking a final exam.  She had another scheduled for 5pm, and so she ran some errands.  Surveillance footage tracks much of her travels that day, but when she drove down to the banks of the Catawba river, no one was aware.  Two jet skiiers discovered Ira's lifeless body on the bank of the river, beside her car.

She had died as the result of asphyxia secondary to ligature strangulation.  There were three ligatures around her neck.Investigators were baffled, and for many months, they failed to determine a motive or drum up a suspect.  On the day of the crime, they spoke with Mark Carver, who had been fishing a hundred yards away from the crime scene.  Suspicious of his report that he hadn't heard anything, investigators focused in and seven months later, both Carver and his cousin, Neal Cassada, were charged with conspiracy and murder. 

The evidence?  Touch DNA found in three places on the victims car contained mixtures which included their DNA. It took authorities nearly two years to proceed on to trial, during which time they tested eight other individuals against the DNA.  None were a match.  Neal Cassada passed away due to a heart attack the day before his trial was to begin, and so the prosecution focused solely on Mark Carver. 

Ultimately, Carver would be found guilty of first degree murder, and sentenced to life.  While the Yarmolenko family felt vindicated, and as though justice had been served, many have questioned this verdict.In the years since, evidence has been revealed which shows inaccurate testimony was given at trial, the DNA evidence is not up to the current standard necessary for litigation and Carver's public defender mounted no defense.  The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence has taken up Carver's case, and currently, a new trial or the outright dismissal of charges is being fought for in court. 

This raises many questions:  Did Mark Carver murder Ira Yarmolenko, was someone else responsible for this heinous crime or is it possible that this may have been the result of suicide?Join host Steven Pacheco as he explores this tragic, complicated and controversial case.

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