Ira Yarmolenko Case Timeline

Neal Cassada and Mark Carver with their daughters Amy and Marybeth

This website was established to examine the case surrounding Ira Yarmolenko's death. The following is a timeline of events. Much of this information was taken from articles published by Gaston Gazette which were taken offline 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 articles surrounding the dates listed here. Multiple sources knowledgeable about the case also contributed information posted here and elsewhere on the website.

  • 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 via a 911 call at 1:18 p.m. The same day, Neal Leon Cassada, Jr., and his cousin Mark Bradley Carver had been downriver from the scene, about 100 feet away by water and 100 yards away by walking (a football field's length). The two locations were obscured from each other by trees and underbrush. Cassada had come to fish and pick up a salt block that Carver had bought for him and brought in his Chevy S10 Blazer. Cassada left the river around 1 p.m. to put out the salt block for his goats and mow his lawn. Carver was joined at the riverbank by his friends, brothers John and James Beatty, and they were interviewed by police who were canvassing the vicinity as Carver was packing up his fishing gear near 2:30 p.m. Carver said he told police Cassada had been with him earlier. Police looked at Carver's driver's license and looked through his car, but they hardly mentioned him in investigative reports from the day. Carver left around 2:30 p.m. to go pick up his daughters from East Gaston High School and Highland School of Technology and 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.
  • May 6, 2008 - DNA swabbing was conducted on the interior of Yarmolenko's car. The exterior of her car had been swabbed the previous day at the scene according to an interview given by Mount Holly Police Sergeant Fred Tindall. The autopsy was also performed on Yarmolenko's body at the morgue facilities at Gaston Memorial Hospital. The body had been wrapped to preserve DNA evidence. During the autopsy, the ligatures were removed and sealed to be sent for DNA testing.
  • June 24, 2008 - Three officers pulled Yarmolenko's car out of the Belmont Police Department garage and examined it for black box data. The officer in charge of collecting black box data was told that the car had already been swabbed for DNA, so neither he nor his assistant wore gloves.
  • July 10, 2008 - [Note that some sources also place this date as July 5, 2008.] Another swabbing of the exterior and interior of Yarmolenko's car in 22 places was conducted.
  • October 15, 2008 - Cassada submitted to a polygraph examination and passed it, denying any involvement with or knowledge of Yarmolenko's death. Because Cassada 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.
  • Friday, December 12, 2008 - At 4:30 a.m., 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 (or July 10 based on some sources) DNA swabbing of Yarmolenko's car. The lab analyst said two touch DNA mixtures appeared to contain a predominant profile of Cassada and one appeared to contain a predominant profile of 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 or the possibility of incorrect analysis of whether the men's DNA was even a part of the mixtures. The samples had been taken two months after the car had been towed from the scene. District Attorney Locke Bell offered Carver a second-degree guilty plea of 8 to 14 years in prison according to The Charlotte Observer (another source told this author the deal was "6 to 8 years depending on record and behavior"). Carver refused immediately, recounting his words in a 2016 interview, "I told 'em I wadn't pleading guilty to somethin' I didn't do. I'm not guilty and ain't goin' to plead guilty." Note that The Charlotte Observer listed the date of arrest as December 11, 2008.
  • 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, born November 20, 1954, passed away at age 55 the day before his trial was set to begin. The probable causes of death listed on his autopsy are "heart disease" and "smoking." His family witnessed him collapse at the breakfast table while having trouble breathing.
  • 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 ranked among the series' top five most downloaded episodes.
  • 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 - District Attorney Locke Bell 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. If the Yarmolenko death occurred today, Bell would not be in charge of it due to redistricting that has occurred since 2008.
  • October 22, 2014 - Carver (born 6/4/1968, inmate profile here) was moved to a medium security facility, Mountain View Correctional Institution, in Spruce Pine, North Carolina.
  • Early 2015 - The Charlotte Observer reporter Elizabeth Leland began research for a series of articles about the case that would be published over a year later. Leland wrote in April 2016, "When I first met Chris Mumma of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence a year ago, she had only recently begun her investigation into Mark Carver’s conviction and wouldn’t say whether she believed he is innocent. Now she feels certain. She believes Carver was fishing when Ira Yarmolenko died. She believes he had nothing to do with her death and that he told the truth when he said he did not touch her car. And, she believes 'there is evidence that will definitively prove his innocence.'"
  • 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, 2016 - 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 Executive Director Ms. 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." This has been the last interview Bell has granted about the case to date, declining requests for follow-up interviews with The Charlotte Observer and radio station WFAE 90.7 in successive months. Mumma stated during WBTV's accompanying podcast starting at 21:20, "I actually think the DNA wasn't challenged very well at that trial, and that's one of the things we're looking at is how accurate was that DNA evidence and going deep into the test results and reconsidering that. . . . We are looking at the case now. . . . It's in investigation. I have been in touch with the district attorney, and as with any other case, my approach will be to pull together our findings and our questions and present those to the district attorney before it goes anywhere else."
  • April 3-8, 2016 - Reporter Elizabeth Leland and her editor Gary Schwab along with photographer Todd Sumlin of The Charlotte Observer renewed work that 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 - Mike Collins of WFAE 90.7, Charlotte's NPR radio news source, hosted an interview with The Charlotte Observer and NCCAI staff about the case which provided the most comprehensive overview of the touch DNA component of the case to date.