Ira Yarmolenko Case Timeline

Neal Cassada and Mark Carver with their daughters Amy and Marybeth

This website was established to examine in depth the case surrounding Ira Yarmolenko's death. The following is a timeline of events. Much of this information was taken from articles published on the Gaston Gazette website, and most of those articles were removed from the Internet in October 2012 when the Gaston Gazette switched to a new web publishing system. Interested persons may contact the Gaston Gazette for hard copies of related articles surrounding the dates listed here.

  • May 5, 2008 - Jet skiers reported to police the scene of Ira Yarmolenko's body and wrecked car on the bank of the Catawba River. Neal Leon Cassada, Jr., and his cousin Mark Bradley Carver were fishing along the riverbank about a football field's length away the same day. Cassada left first, and Carver later began to pack up his fishing gear to go pick up his daughter Emily from school but was delayed by police who were canvassing the vicinity. Carver returned to his fishing spot later in the day to retrieve fishnets he had set but was denied access. When questioned by police several days afterward, Cassada and Carver said they had never met Yarmolenko and had no knowledge of her death. Cassada later took and passed a polygraph indicating he had no knowledge of the death.
  • May 6, 2008 - DNA swabbing was conducted on the interior of Yarmolenko's car. Yarmolenko's body and the exterior of her car had been swabbed the previous day at the scene. All of the DNA samples taken from the body, exterior and interior of the car on May 5 and May 6, 2008, excluded Cassada and Carver.
  • July 10, 2008 - [Note that some sources also place this date as July 5, 2008.] In violation of DNA collection protocol, another swabbing of the exterior and interior of Yarmolenko's car was ordered after the chain of custody had been broken. During trial, the analyst who conducted this extra swabbing testified that the police investigator handling the Yarmolenko case directed him as to the exact spots on the car to swab rather than allowing the analyst to choose the locations. By this point, the car had been towed and stored in an unsecured area in the same building where Cassada and Carver had voluntarily come several times for questioning. Also prior to the return of results from the July 10 swabbing, a state investigator had tried to coerce a confession during a recorded interview with Cassada by pointing out how easy it would be to obtain Cassada's touch DNA by wiping up sweat off the table.
  • October 15, 2008 - Cassada submitted to a polygraph examination and passed it, denying any involvement with or knowledge of Yarmolenko's death. Because Cassada 100% passed his polygraph, police did not give one to Carver, even though Carver requested to take one. Both men voluntarily offered DNA samples when requested by police.
  • December 12, 2008 - Cassada and Carver were arrested and held at the Gaston County Jail with bond set at $1 million each. This step was taken based on lab reports from the July 5 DNA swabbing of Yarmolenko's car that returned results of two touch DNA mixtures as a partial match to Cassada and one as a partial match to Carver. All of the touch samples said to match the men were mixtures, containing DNA originating from more than one contributor which brought into question placement by transfer. The samples had been taken 66 days after the death, after the car had been towed from the scene and insecurely stored in the same building where both men had been questioned. District Attorney Locke Bell offered Carver a second-degree guilty plea of up to 8 years in prison. Carver refused immediately, telling his lawyer that he could not say he had done something to that girl that he didn't do.
  • February 2, 2009 - Media reported that Christopher Lemont Cooper (sometimes incorrectly spelled "Lamont") had written a letter confessing that he and seven other people had caused Yarmolenko's death. After a thorough investigation including a polygraph test which Cooper failed, police declared his confession to be false.
  • February 5, 2009 - Judge Timothy Patti lowered bond from $1 million to $100,000 each based on multiple DNA samples from the scene that excluded Cassada and Carver. Cassada posted bond the same day, Carver the following day. Both men remained on house arrest with electronic ankle monitors.
  • May 7-8, 2009 - Attorneys filed requests for removal from house arrest for Cassada (May 7) and Carver (May 8) based on the State's release of further DNA testing. The DNA tested on two of the three ligatures around Yarmolenko's neck and underneath her fingernails on both hands showed only her own DNA and were excluded as a match to Cassada and Carver. The third ligature, the bungee cord, returned an unidentified DNA result that excluded both Cassada and Carver. The requests for removal from house arrest were denied.
  • October 10, 2010 - Cassada, with a health record of one prior heart attack at the age of 36 on May 20, 1993, passed away from stress-related heart disease at age 55 the day before his trial was set to begin.
  • October 11, 2010 - Charges were officially dropped against the deceased Cassada, a routine proceeding.
  • March 14-18, 2011 - Carver's trial occurred at the Gaston County Courthouse.
  • March 21, 2011 - After 5 hours of deliberation spanning 2 days, the jury issued a first-degree murder verdict against Carver. Superior Court Judge Timothy Kincaid, who presided over the trial, handed down a sentence of life in prison without parole. Carver was transferred to Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Polkton, North Carolina, a close security facility.
  • March 28, 2011 - Defense attorneys Brent D. Ratchford and David A. Phillips filed a motion to request that Judge Kincaid reconsider the evidence and overrule the jury based on lack of sufficient proof to have required a trial. The attorneys outlined reasons why they believed in Carver's innocence. This was the first time in Phillips' over 20-year career he had ever filed such a motion. Members of the audience who had seen Judge Kincaid visibly upset when the jury's verdict was read, afterward taking off his robe and throwing it down before leaving the courtroom, expected him to take the opportunity to reverse the jury's decision. Judge Kincaid dismissed the motion.
  • July 9, 2011 - Dateline NBC aired Mystery on the Catawba River, an hour-long report that examined the possibility of Cassada's and Carver's innocence. According to producer Michael Nardi, the episode was one of the most popular he had ever done based on viewer responses. Discovery Communications re-aired the episode on its family of channels dozens of times during the next few years.
  • June 5, 2012 - Two out of three justices at the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld Carver's conviction. In a rare dissent, Justice Robert Hunter, Jr., recommended that the trial jury's judgement be reversed based on the unreliability of touch DNA as the sole basis for a conviction. From the dissent, "The State’s second expert on touch DNA testified at trial that touch DNA testing is a relatively new technique and is not as reliable as saliva and blood DNA testing. The expert also described a phenomenon known as secondary skin cell transfers, where if person A touches person B, and person B touches a pen, person A’s DNA can be found on the pen." Justice Hunter's dissent also referenced investigative errors (NCcourts.org).
  • September 2012 - The website irinayarmolenko.drupalgardens.com was established and moved permanently in January 2016 to FreeMarkCarver.com
  • September 14, 2012 - Carver's appeal briefs were accepted by the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The appeal was expected to set a precedent for whether touch DNA identification is acceptable as the sole basis for a conviction. As dissenting Justice Hunter from the North Carolina Court of Appeals wrote, "I cannot find even one case in North Carolina that has reviewed the sufficiency of touch DNA evidence to establish the identity of an accused, much less any case in this state that even discusses the accuracy of touch DNA" (NCcourts.org). The Supreme Court of North Carolina was required to rule in Carver's case because his appeal did not receive a unanimous decision.
  • January 8, 2013 - Oral arguments were held for State v Mark Bradley Carver at the North Carolina Supreme Court. Attorney Gordon Widenhouse, a specialist in appeals, argued on behalf of Carver.
  • January 24, 2013 - The Supreme Court of North Carolina upheld the conviction of Mark Carver without issuing a formal opinion on the reliability of transfer DNA for sole identifying evidence, a use unprecedented in the state of North Carolina. Media reporting on the North Carolina Supreme Court decision noted that the court passed up its opportunity to issue a formal opinion on what had been expected to be a precedent-setting case for the state regarding touch DNA.
  • June 2013 - The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence (NCCAI) accepted Mark Carver's case for an in-depth review.
  • January 13, 2014 - Aaron Habel examined the Yarmolenko case during an episode of The Generation Why Podcast, one of the first media stories to go into depth about the possibility that Yarmolenko may have committed suicide. It became one of the series' most popular episodes, rivaled at the time only by the Amanda Knox podcast.
  • June 19, 2014 - Discovery Communications, LLC, made the gracious decision to discontinue television re-broadcasts of Dateline NBC's "Mystery on the Catawba River" about the Yarmolenko case from its family of channels. This was done in response to a request from the author of this website to either correct around a dozen factual and suggestive errors or cease airing the report. Overall, the episode provided enough information for critical thinkers to question Carver's conviction and was the original motivation for the author of this website to launch a public campaign for finding out what had really happened to Yarmolenko.
  • September 2014 - NCCAI moved into Phase 2 of its work on the Carver case, with the only remaining research related to the DNA report. District Attorney Locke Bell originally fought the release of the only legible copy of the DNA lab report in existence which NCCAI requested for two independent experts to examine. In September 2014, several local media sources reported that NCCAI sought to obtain a judge's ruling requiring the report to be released, however, he eventually voluntarily released the report as a favor to his friend Bill Stetzer, one of the original prosecuting attorneys on the case. The defense counsel had a photocopy that was illegible, so they needed a clean copy of it. District Attorney Locke Bell's actions delayed progress on the case for about six months.
  • October 22, 2014 - Carver was moved to a medium security facility, Mountain View Correctional Institution, in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.
  • November 13, 2015 - Viewers of TLC, a channel of Discovery Communications, LLC, began to notify us that Dateline's "Mystery on the Catawba River" was being re-aired in violation of an agreement made and communicated to the author of this website by NBC's legal department. The episode retained around a dozen major factual and suggestive errors regarding the case. The re-airings continued for several months and, based on our web traffic and viewer emails, appear to have ceased by March 2016.
  • February 8, 2015 - News anchor Jamie Boll of WBTV Charlotte aired a video report, article and podcast entitled WBTV Investigates: Pardoned by Public Opinion that examined the "crowd sourcing of justice" shown by the amount of attention that Carver's conviction continues to generate among the public. NCCAI lead attorney Chris Mumma and Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell participated in interviews for the report. Bell stated at the time, "I have no doubt whatsoever that Mark Carver is guilty of first degree murder," however, Bell declined to give interviews to The Charlotte Observer and radio station WFAE 90.7 for their respective reports in the following months.
  • April 3-8, 2016 - Motivated by the WBTV report and its interest in pursuing further investigation, reporter Elizabeth Leland and her editor Gary Schwab along with photographer Todd Sumlin of The Charlotte Observer picked back up work that they had already begun in January 2015 on an in-depth story about the case and published it in a series of well-researched articles that exposed new information pointing toward Carver's innocence. Links to the articles along with the Free Mark Carver website author's response may be found here.
  • April 12, 2016 - WFAE 90.7, Charlotte's NPR news source, hosted an interview with The Charlotte Observer and NCCAI staff about the case, continuing the surge of media interest in the case as one of wrongful conviction.
  • Coming in fall 2016 - Based on interviews with NCCAI staff in early 2016, it is anticipated that this case could be back in court before the end of the year depending on the results of further DNA testing and the cooperation of the district attorney. Renewed media attention to the case at the national level is also expected by year's end, details of which we have been asked not to share at this time.