Mark Carver, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a UNC Charlotte student, wanted to testify while he was on trial in 2011, his lawyer Chris Mumma has repeatedly said in recent days.
But on the advice of his attorneys at the time, he didn’t.
Carver was found guilty of the 2008 murder of Ira Yarmolenko during that trial, and he’s been in prison ever since. Yarmolenko, who graduated from Chapel Hill High School, was found dead on the banks of the Catawba River, near where Carver went fishing that day.
A ribbon, a bungee cord and a drawstring were wrapped around Yarmolenko’s neck when she was found by passing Jet Ski riders, sparking a mystery and a controversial trial that eventually caught the attention of Mumma, the executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence.
On Thursday, the eighth day of a hearing in Gaston County court, Carver took the witness stand for the first time.
During two hours of questioning, he described the limits of his understanding about the case.
Evidence already entered in court showed he has taken three IQ tests, resulting in scores ranging from 61 to 73. One mental health evaluator, Ashley McKinney, said she gave Carver a tentative diagnosis of mild intellectual disability.
Carver can’t read, Mumma has said. He signed a police account of his own interview, he testified in court Thursday, but he didn’t know what it said.
During cross-examination from Gaston County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hamlin, Carver repeatedly said things that did not match with some of the statements he gave to police in 2008. He said he was early to pick up his daughter at school, for example, but Hamlin said he’d told detectives he was late.
Again and again, Hamlin pointed out the discrepancies and asked Carver if he remembered telling the detectives something else.
No, Carver said. He claims he never said some of the things the detectives wrote down. In a few cases, he said, the detectives urged him to guess at facts and then recorded his statements as if he’d been confident about the answer.
The detectives’ accounts show that Carver was inconsistent about some details of the day Yarmolenko died, including the time of his comings and goings at the fishing hole. He said he’s bad at keeping track of time.
But he insisted — in court and in his police interviews — that he never saw Yarmolenko, never touched her and never touched her car.
“(The detective) kept hollerin’ ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, you done that,’” Carver said. “He kept calling me a liar.”
Carver’s testimony followed nearly two days of testimony from his lawyers in the 2011 trial. Mumma has suggested the defense team should have introduced evidence about Carver’s IQ at trial, but the lead attorney said it didn’t seem to be an issue.
“I had absolutely no question as to his competency,” Carver’s former lead attorney Brent Ratchford said earlier this week. “He answered every question I asked.”
Another point of contention in the hearing is DNA evidence presented at trial. The science around DNA evidence has progressed rapidly over the past decade, including in the three years between Yarmolenko’s death and Carver’s trial, and Mumma’s team has questioned whether DNA from Yarmolenko’s car was handled and tested appropriately for the time.
Both sides will make closing arguments Friday, though Superior Court Judge Christopher W. Bragg said he is unlikely to make a decision for several weeks. His ruling could lead to a new trial for Carver.