Pictured is a bookmark mailed to the author of this website by Mark Carver during his incarceration under close security at Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Polkton, North Carolina, in 2013. Now that Carver is able to circulate more freely in a medium security facility, Mountain View Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, he enjoys attending weekly Bible studies offered to the inmates. The bookmark quotes the King James Version of Isaiah 26:3-4, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee . . . Trust ye in the LORD forever."
The Free Mark Carver website is authored by a woman who has previously worked as a newspaper journalist and currently works in the fashion industry. In media interviews about the case she has preferred to keep a low profile using her first or middle name. Anyone may find out more about the author and communicate directly with her using the contact form. Prior to learning about the case in 2011 through Dateline NBC and online news articles, the author had zero connection to anyone involved and still lives about 1,000 miles from where these events took place in North Carolina. The timeline of her participation is as follows:
- July 9, 2011 - I saw the original Dateline NBC broadcast, "Mystery on the Catawba River." The case caught my attention in part because Ira Yarmolenko was Ukrainian and spoke Russian, and I had lived in Russia for five months when I was a teenager where I learned to speak some Russian and made many friends.
- July 6, 2012 - A year after first learning about the case, I mailed a package to Carver with a letter and 50-page report on DNA contamination from The Council for Responsible Genetics. From my letter, ". . . If you can find someone to assist you in going through the report I’ve enclosed about DNA errors, including cross-contamination, mislabeling and misinterpretation, I think it would be beneficial to your future appeal."
- July 27, 2012 - Postmark date on a response letter from a Carver relative to whom Mark had passed along my letter. The relative's letter included details about the case that had not been reported in media, including, ". . . When Mark was asked how tall she was he said he didn't know and they made him stand and guess. Also when the cops walked over to where Mark was fishing they looked through his car and looked at his license and didn't have on gloves. They could have transferred DNA back to the scene. . . ."
- August 1, 2012 - Motivated by the information in the letter from Mark Carver's relative, I launched a website at the address irinayarmolenko.drupalgardens.com that merged in January 2016 with another website started by a friend of the Carver and Cassada families, FreeMarkCarver.com. All of the writing now published at this domain is this author's own.
- November 2012 - Another Dateline NBC viewer named Mike who had seen the Yarmolenko episode began communicating with me via Twitter. Mike had become so interested in Carver's plight that he was talking to him by phone weekly during prison call times. Mike told me that Carver sometimes mentioned the day of Yarmolenko's death and that it sounded like that day had happened just as he had always said, that he went fishing. Mike and I lived in different states, but we continued our conversation by email and phone to share ideas about various points of the case.
- December 19, 2012 - Mike sent two emails titled, "Are you sitting down?" and, "Are you still sitting down?" The contents were from several forensic science journals (now listed on the research page) as follows:
Excerpt: There are many different methods for committing suicide, but few are likely to be confused with homicide. Self-strangulation is one of those methods that, at least at first sight, may easily be mistaken for homicide because many investigators and forensic pathologists believe that it is impossible to carry out self-strangulation as a means of suicide. This is due to the misconception . . . .
Excerpt: More than one knot in suicides is not unusual. Therefore the presence of 3 knots in the second and third cases was compatible with the cases reported in these literature.
Excerpt: The use of more than 1 ligature has been reported in suicides, as well as up to 20 turns.
Excerpt: The actions in all of our cases were carried out with common, personal goods (ie, a belt, pantyhose, and a scarf). It was concluded, based on all of the above stated findings, that the cause of death in each of the 3 presented cases was suicide. This paper reports the case of a 20-year-old university student found dead in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. . . . The results of the autopsy I performed, the case was unquestionably found to be suicide, even though two double and two single knots had been found in the noose around the neck.
These studies contradicted what I had been told by one of Carver's original defense lawyers, that it would have been impossible for Yarmolenko to have tied the ligatures herself. Mike and I immediately knew we had a key piece to the puzzle because so many questions about the evidence were answered by forensic studies of suicidal strangulation.
- Spring 2013 - I learned from two people close to the case that Yarmolenko's medical records had been available to the defense counsel during the preparation period prior to Neal Cassada's scheduled trial and that they showed Yarmolenko had a bad mental history with repeated previous suicide attempts and at least one hospitalization for self-harm. This information would be repeated in coming years through emails sent through the Free Mark Carver website by people who knew Yarmolenko. My efforts to obtain official documentation of her medical history met with roadblocks in coming years as the case remained active with several different legal groups. Yarmolenko's brother has routinely denied knowing about her previous suicide attempts to Dateline NBC in 2011 and The Charlotte Observer in 2016.
- July 7, 2013 - I published a suicide reenactment video that my parents and I filmed in Oklahoma. WBTV would incorrectly report in February 2016 that this reenactment had been filmed at the scene of Yarmolenko's death on the Catawba River.
- October 16, 2013 - This interesting email came through the website, "I knew Ira from Chapel Hill. I knew her pretty good. It is interesting that so many people have such great things to say about her. She was very strange. She wasn't the loving person people mention. She did not have many good friends and she just never acted like she even liked or loved anything. We had some of the same mutual friends. She was kind of an outcast and I guess you could say a loser. I heard from a mutual friend that she was hospitalized for trying to hurt herself before and I always thought she did it herself."
- November 9, 2013 - Another interesting email came through the website, ". . . You should know that she did attempt suicide more than once when she was in high school. She was a very sad person, something she quickly learned to cover up. . . ."
- August 1, 2014 - From someone who knows one of Yarmolenko's former boyfriends came this comment via email, ". . . When I did mention suicide he agreed, only saying he knew she was depressed."
- August 22-25, 2014 - I had the opportunity to visit North Carolina and meet fourteen of Mark Carver's and Neal Cassada's relatives and a pastor who knows Carver. While there, I also attempted to find the cross marking the scene of Yarmolenko's death but wasn't equipped with adequate clothing and shoes to navigate the heavy brush on the Catawba River embankment. Though unable to locate the cross, I did walk around on the top of the embankment behind the Stowe Family YMCA near the scene. Also, I visited the riverbank across the river and upstream via the US National Whitewater Center and noted how thick the trees are in that area, limiting the view in all directions.
- January 2015 - 2018 - Local and national media interest in the case as one of wrongful conviction picked up in January 2015 leading to more volunteer work by this author assisting four groups that requested information about the case for reporting and legal purposes.
- June 2019 - Present - Carver was released from prison on June 11, 2019, by order of a judge who overturned the original conviction. Time will tell how much more work will be required to win Carver's exoneration, but this author is grateful to staff of The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence who are committed to seeing the case through to a victory. Perhaps one day this author will archive this website after the case against Carver is closed, but until then, FreeMarkCarver.com will exist to bring transparency to this innocence case.
Sources and Efforts to Verify Information
Core information about this case contained in this website comes from news articles and videos, court documents including the trial transcript, and from conversations and emails with people who have inside knowledge of the case. Every reasonable effort has been made to verify information reported on this website from at least two or three reliable sources. While this author would like to be able to cite sources especially for information that has not been widely reported in mainstream media, many of the case insiders who have shared information with this website's author have spoken with the understanding of anonymity, which has been respected.
Clarifications of Author's Interview Statements
Clarification: Tire Tracks and Footprints at Scene
By way of clarification, in the Generation Why Podcast in which the author of this website participated, she was quizzed by the moderator as to the tire tracks and footprints found at the scene. Referencing information in a newspaper report near the time of Yarmolenko's death, the author stated that Yarmolenko's tire tracks were the only tire tracks along the embankment leading down to the riverbank. Since then, another source with access to case files has indicated that this isn't documented one way or the other, however there is a brief mention of the possibility during Carver's trial from Detective Lloyd Michael Addis of the Mount Holly Police Department who responded to the scene, as follows (March 16, 2011, pages 94-95):
Q. Okay, and when you first got out of your vehicle did you approach like an embankment area?
A. Yes. It was a utility right of way with high grass and wooded, grown over woods, and I could see tire tracks leading through the brush and grass.
Q. So is that one of the first things you observed when you got out of your car?
Q. And these tire tracks, did they start up where the dirt road was?
A. Just off the dirt road, yes.
Q. And they led to what?
A. The car.
Two sources informed the author of this website that there were no footprints leading in or out of the water, meaning the prosecution could not explain how Yarmolenko had become wet. A third source said description of footprints at the scene or lack thereof is absent from case files. This absence was highlighted in the appellate dissent of Justice Robert Hunter, Jr., “No evidence (such as matching tire treads or footprints as in Stone and Barnett) was presented that the defendant actually traveled the path between the two locations." (nccourts.org, pages 4-5 of the dissent).
Clarification: Hoodie Drawstring
During interviews with The Generation Why Podcast and WBTV, the author of this website stated that all of the ligatures around Yarmolenko's neck started at the back of her neck. The Charlotte Observer reporter Elizabeth Leland pointed out to the author that this is not necessarily evident from the limited views of scene photos that have been made public. The knots of both ribbon and hoodie drawstring are at the front right side of Yarmolenko's neck, but it is possible that the hoodie drawstring had been started at the front of the neck and then wrapped behind and brought back to the front, leaving two passes of the drawstring visible (1 1/2 wraps). Had the ligature begun at the back, three drawstring passes should be visible (2 1/2 wraps). Court documents state Yarmolenko wrapped the drawstring "twice," but given the photos, it appears that 1 1/2 times is a more accurate statement, as it would also be for the bungee cord which began and ended at the back. It is difficult to verify the drawstring wrap pattern because of the visual interference of the ribbon and bungee cord, at least in publicly available photos. Special thanks to Leland for pointing this out to the author.