Yarmolenko murder trial set to begin

Staff report

Yarmolenko

Jury selection began March 14 in the case of one of two men accused of murdering a Charlotte college student whose body was discovered in 2008 on the banks of the Catawba River in Mount Holly.

Matt Bradley Carver, 42, was charged with first-degree murder of 20-year-old Irina Yarmolenko, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His cousin Neal Leon Cassada was also charged in the death but he died in October of natural causes a day before his trial was set to begin. Carver, who is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, could face life in prison.

Police arrested the two men in December 2008, seven months after police found Yarmolenko’s body along the river next to her car, which had crashed at a clearing behind the Stowe YMCA.

She had a bungee cord and several items wrapped around her neck. Investigators said she died of asphyxiation.

It’s unclear how she ended up along the bank. Security videos from earlier on May 5, 2008 – the day she died – show her visiting a University City area Goodwill and coffee shop.

Prosecutors have been tight lipped about any possible motives for the murder, but Gaston County court filings from 2009 show DNA evidence links Carver and Cassada to being inside the car. Those tests, however, did not connect the two men to ligature marks around her neck or skin found underneath Yarmolenko’s fingernails, reports said.

Carver has claimed his innocence since his arrest. He’s been on house arrest with an ankle-monitoring bracelet while awaiting trial.

Yarmolenko grew up in the Chapel Hill area, and friends remember a woman who gave back to the community and cared deeply for them. They were stunned by the news of her death.

Erin Warshany told the Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group last year about her friend ‘Ira.’

“She always wanted to make your days as bright as they could be,” Warshany said of Yarmolenko. “She was willing to do anything for you. She was the best friend you never thought you would have.”

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