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North Carolina prosecutor dismisses murder charge against man in college student's 2008 death

A local North Carolina prosecutor has dropped a first-degree murder charge against a man whose conviction in the death of a university student was overturned by a judge eight years later.

Gaston County District Attorney Travis Page formally dismissed on Friday the charge against Mark Bradley Carver, 54, of Belmont, saying in a news release that "the evidence no longer supports" the count.

The dismissal meant Carver, who was released from prison in 2019 but remained under house arrest while awaiting a new trial, got an electronic monitor removed from his ankle late Friday, CBS affiliate WBTV reported.

"We're happy it's finally over," said Robin Carver, his sister-in-law. "It's been a long time coming."

Carver and his cousin had been charged with first-degree murder in the 2008 death of 20-year-old Ira Yarmolenko, who was a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Ira Yarmolenko WBTV

Yarmolenko's body was found on the banks of the Catawba River next to her car, which was at the bottom of an embankment. A ribbon, bungee cord and drawstring were wrapped around her neck.

Carver and the cousin, Neal Cassada, had been fishing nearby. Cassada died hours before his trial began. Carver, who has maintained his innocence throughout, was convicted in 2011 and received a life sentence.

In June 2019, Superior Court Judge Christopher Bragg ordered a new trial, citing in part the DNA evidence that prosecutors used against Carver.

Page, who became DA in July 2021, also said the evidence no longer supported a murder charge against Cassada. He said in his news release that the DNA prosecutors used at Carver's trial to tie him to Yarmolenko's car "no longer contained a sufficient amount of DNA for examination."

But Chris Mumma, Carver's attorney and executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, has said state labs used outdated methods to test the DNA found on the car.

"Both men are innocent - as they have always proclaimed," Mumma said in a news release.

Mumma said the DNA evidence used to convict Carver was discredited when new federal standards for DNA testing were put into place, WBTV reported.

"Mark's case shines a light on the issues associated with the interpretation of DNA mixtures before standards were changed at our state lab and Charlotte-Mecklenburg lab," Mumma said.

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No other suspects in Yarmolenko's murder have been identified. Page said his office will "continue to seek justice for the Yarmolenko family and all homicide victims as the evidence and rule of law permit."

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