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Two charged in UNCC student's slaying

Posted December 12, 2008
Updated December 13, 2008

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— Two cousins have been charged in the death of a University of North Carolina-Charlotte student from Chapel Hill, police said Friday.

Mark Bradley Carver, 40, of 113 Carver St. in Gastonia, and Neal Leon Cassada Jr., 54, of 210 Plantation Drive in Mount Holly, were charged with first-degree murder and felony conspiracy, according to arrest warrants filed at the Gaston County magistrate's office.

Irina Yarmolenko, a Chapel Hill High School graduate, was found dead on the banks of the Catawba River in Mount Holly on May 5. Police said the 20-year-old had been asphyxiated.

Carver and Cassada are scheduled to appear in court on Monday. Authorities said they will not face the death penalty.

Saying they didn't want to jeopardize their investigation, Mount Holly police provided no details about a possible motive or what led to the arrests. A $15,000 reward has been offered in the case, and it was unclear whether a tipster provided a break in the case.

In an interview with WBTV News Friday evening, Carver maintained his innocence. He said that he gave police DNA samples that investigators said they matched to DNA found in Yarmolenko's car. He said he doesn't know how his DNA got there.

“I’ve never met the girl in my life,” Carver said.

Police said they found Yarmolenko’s 1998 Saturn at the edge of the Catawba River, facing the water. The car had traveled several yards down a steep embankment and struck a tree stump at the water’s edge, damaging the front end.

Yarmolenko’s body was found on the ground next to the driver’s side door, police said.

Carver said that he and his cousin were fishing at Catawba Lake the day Yarmolenko’s body ended up there, but had nothing to do with her death.

“I don’t know why they hadn’t looked for somebody else. I ain’t the one that done it,” Carver said.

He expressed hope that the true killer would be found.

“I hate it happened. I want them to catch the right one," Carver added. "I feel sorry for them because I’ve got children of my own."

Yarmolenko’s family drove from Chapel Hill to Gaston County Friday to meet with investigators and discuss the case.

"This thing that has happened has always just sort of eaten at us," said Yarmolenko's brother, Pavel Yarmolenko.

“For me personally, I feel a little easier knowing that the people who did this would ultimately answer to justice,” Pavel Yarmolenko said.

In the hours before her death, security cameras showed Irina Yarmolenko stopping at a coffee shop and making a donation at a Goodwill store in Charlotte.

Police said data retrieved from a data recorder in her Saturn showed someone was sitting in the driver’s seat when the car went down the embankment.

The Saturn was going about 15 mph down the embankment when it hit the stump, and the driver’s-side seat belt was engaged at the time, police said. The recorder also revealed that someone started the car at the scene.

Pavel Yarmolenko said his younger sister's spirit will live on in her passion for the arts.

"She knew how to make people smile," he said. "When people read her poetry and read whatever else she'd been writing, I think they'll get to know a really incredible person."


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  • OSX Dec 12, 2008

    When is our legal system going to realize that we are getting tired of this? We can't take things into our own hands because then we are the bad guys. Until our legal system wakes up we have to put our wives, daughters, and sons out there for these monsters to prey upon.

  • teacher-mom Dec 12, 2008

    I am glad they were arrested.

  • doubletrouble Dec 12, 2008

    I for one, am tired of my tax dollars feeding and housing such individuals, who commit these types of crimes. It's a money circle. Prisons need food services, public defenders need extra work in gobs of appeals. Just break out the backhoe, give them a grey pill.....and let society be done with them. She was dropping off goods to the Goodwill store, trying to help others....so this cherished person of our society is lost due to 2 lowlifes. I just can't fathom keeping them alive the rest of their days...while she was struck down in the very beginning of her own life.

  • charlesboyer Dec 12, 2008

    Irina's picture is haunting. In it she's on the cusp of adulthood and it was then that her life was stolen from her.

    If these are the murderers, I hope that their suffering is long and severe. Or short and total.

  • whatelseisnew Dec 12, 2008

    If these guys did this, they have earned the death penalty. We need to get an express lane put in to make up for loss time. Gotta get some cell space freed up.

  • bluebird1075 Dec 12, 2008

    She got death, they should too!!

  • Dr. Dataclerk Dec 12, 2008

    Life in prison for both of the guys and without parole.

  • mondosinistro Dec 12, 2008

    twc and others, I accept your correction. I do still say in general that habitual offenders are a huge issue, maybe the biggest one--but it appears that this doesn't fall in that category. I don't know what to make of these two critters. Especially in view of the lack of any indication of sexual assault, it's hard to figure what they were after.

  • Common Sense Man Dec 12, 2008

    "Some proby officer has either just resighned or is really sweatin it right about now. Another victim of a broken system."

    I kinda doubt it seeing as how neither were on probation.

  • agoodguy Dec 12, 2008

    Read TWCs comment again, the pairs criminal history was not extensive. Your eyebrows are raised when they have had charges filed but his report said the charges were dismissed. School attendance and hunting violations don't really set off any major alarms.

    From the Gastonia Gazette: Neither Carver nor Cassada have extensive criminal histories. Carver has some hunting violations dating back to 1993, and in 2007 an assault with a deadly weapon charge against him was dismissed, according to court records.

    Cassada faced several charges in 1995, including assault by pointing a gun, assault and battery and injury to personal property. However, all those charges were dismissed. He also faced a 1991 charge of school attendance violation, which is something that parents often face if they do not make their children go to school.