State News

Defense: Inmate confessed to killing UNCC student

Attorneys for two cousins accused of killing a UNC-Charlotte student from Chapel Hill last year say a man in the Mecklenburg County Jail has confessed to the crime.

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Irina Yarmolenko
GASTONIA, N.C. — Attorneys for two cousins accused of killing a Chapel Hill woman last year said Monday that a man being held in the Mecklenburg County Jail has confessed to the crime.

Mark Bradley Carver, 40, of Gastonia, and Neal Leon Cassada Jr., 54, of Mount Holly, are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the May 5 death of 20-year-old Irina Yarmolenko, a University of North Carolina-Charlotte student and Chapel Hill High School graduate.

Yarmolenko's body was found on the bank of the Catawba River in Mount Holly. An autopsy determined she had been strangled.

DNA has linked two men, who are cousins, to Yarmolenko's car, which was next to the body, State Bureau of Investigation Agent David Crow testified Monday at a bond hearing.

Crow said the men's DNA was found inside the car. He said the men told him they were fishing nearby.

He also said authorities believe Yarmolenko went to the river to take photos for a university photo class.

Carver's lawyer said during the hearing that DNA from another person was found in the vehicle, too.

Cassada's lawyer, David Phillips, said another man in the Mecklenburg County jail had confessed to the slaying in a letter to a television station, but refused to talk to investigators.

The confession was from a 37-year-old man who was locked up May 21 – two weeks after Yarmolenko was killed – on rape charges, Phillips said.

The man said in his letter that he and some friends killed Yarmolenko after they had smoked crack cocaine all night and needed money for more drugs, Phillips said. The man said the thought of the slaying keeps him up at night, Phillips said.

The defense attorneys asked that the $1 million bonds for Carver and Cassada be reduced. The men are not flight risks because of family ties in Gaston County and have cooperated with police during the investigation, The attorneys said.

Gaston County Superior Court Judge Timothy L. Patti said he hoped to make a ruling this week.

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