Local News

Suspects in UNCC student's death make first appearances

Posted December 15, 2008 6:15 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2008 6:26 p.m. EST

— Two cousins charged in the death of a University of North Carolina-Charlotte student from Chapel Hill made their first court appearances Monday afternoon in Gastonia.

Mark Bradley Carver, 40, of 113 Carver St. in Gastonia, and Neal Leon Cassada Jr., 54, of 210 Plantation Drive in Mount Holly, were arrested and charged Friday with first-degree murder and felony conspiracy.

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

Mark Carver suffers from schizophrenia and takes medication, according to WBTV News, a Charlotte TV station.

Cassada also takes medication. In court Monday, his attorney said, "He's out of his head," in reference to Cassada's not having taken his medication since Friday.

It remains unclear how Yarmolenko would have encountered Carver and Cassada, but police have said it was not random.

She was last seen May 5 at a Goodwill store and a coffee shop. Her 1998 Saturn was found at the edge of the Catawba River, facing the water, police said. 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 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've never seen her before in my life. I don't even know how to say her name," Carver told a WBTV reporter from his jail cell.

About 30 members of the suspects' family attended Monday's court proceedings. The Yarmolenko family was not there.