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, including the suicide theory. 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 to go home to feed his goats. 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. Police responders told a nearby resident who rowed his canoe to the scene that a suicide had just occurred. When questioned by police several days afterward, Cassada and Carver said they had never met Yarmolenko and had no knowledge about her 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.
  • May 15, 2008 - Ten days after the body was found, police debated whether to close the case as a suicide. The decision was made to classify the case as a homicide and keep it open partly because the medical examiner's report listed the death as a homicide. It was not until several years later that public advocates discovered a collection of forensic science research articles that supported the scene findings and autopsy in Yarmolenko's death as being consistent with suicidal strangulation. Medical examiners unfamiliar with markers of suicidal strangulation have mistaken cause of death for homicide in similar cases. A substantial amount of circumstantial evidence pointing to suicide was eventually discovered, most of which was disallowed from being presented at trial, including the fact that Yarmolenko had attempted suicide multiple times previously and been hospitalized for self-injury.
  • 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 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 three 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, passed away from a second heart attack 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 15, 2011 - Carver's trial opened.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • April 2014 - The majority of material was removed from this website for confidentiality reasons while the case proceeded with NCCAI. A limited version of the information, particularly surrounding the suicide theory, was restored in September 2015 as public interest in the case remained high.
  • 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 refused to voluntarily release the only copy of the DNA lab report in existence which NCCAI requested for an independent expert to examine. NCCAI sought to obtain a judge's ruling requiring the report to be released to them.
  • October 22, 2014 - Carver was moved to a medium security facility, Mountain View Correctional Institution, in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Such an early move from close security to medium security in a sentence of Carver's kind is unusual.
  • Mid-Spring 2015 - By court order, District Attorney Locke Bell released the DNA lab report to NCCAI, which is continuing its work on the case heading into 2016.
  • November 13, 2015 - Viewers of TLC, a channel of Discovery Communications, LLC, notified us that Dateline's "Mystery on the Catawba River" has begun to be re-aired in violation of an agreement made and communicated to the author of this website by NBC's legal department. The episode retains around a dozen major factual and suggestive errors regarding the case.