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Gaston County D.A. accused of withholding evidence in murder case

Gaston County D.A. accused of withholding evidence in murder case

Defense lawyers are asking a judge in North Carolina to hold Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell in contempt over allegations that he has failed to release files relevant to the investigation and prosecution of Mark Carver.

Carver was convicted of strangling University of North Carolina student Irina Yarmolenko in 2011 and sentenced to life without parole. A six-part series in April 2017 by The Charlotte Observer surfaced significant questions about Carver’s guilt.

Attorneys for Carver maintain that he is innocent. Bell’s office steadfastly disagrees.

Chris Mumma of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, who represents Carver, claims Bell has ignored a court order directing his office to turn over law enforcement and prosecutorial files.

After complaints were made by Carver’s team during an April 2017 hearing, Superior Court Judge David Lee ordered both sides in May to share their files with one another. In her recent motion to have Bell held in contempt, Mumma claims Bell failed to do so. Bell told the Gaston Gazette that all the documents were sitting in his office and that Mumma simply had to come and pick them up. The motion for contempt remains pending.

Yarmolenko was found dead next to her car in May 2008. Carver and his cousin, Neal Cassada, Jr, had been fishing on the day that Yarmolenko’s body was found near the Catawba River.

Carver has repeatedly denied having anything to do with Yarmolenko’s death. Cassada was also charged with murder but died the day before his trial was scheduled to start.

Mumma claims that Carver’s trial attorneys were incompetent in their defense of him, and law enforcement and the state crime lab mishandled and misrepresented evidence. Mumma also claims that the key piece of evidence — “touch DNA” discovered in cells found on three places around Yarmolenko’s car — is most likely tainted and would not withstand more advanced testing.

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