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GASTONIA, N.C. -- A Gaston County man will spend the rest of his life behind bars after being convicted of first-degree murder in the death of a UNC Charlotte student.

After deliberating a total of 5 1/2 hours, a jury announced the guilty verdict Monday morning.

Mark Carver appeared emotionless as the jury read the verdict.

Immediately afterward, a judge sentenced Carver to life in prison without parole for murdering Irina Yarmolenko along the Catawba River in May 2008.

Prosecutors said Carver strangled Yarmolenko with a sweatshirt string, bow and bungee cord. The motive for the killing is still unclear.

DNA evidence put Carver and his cousin Neal Cassada at the crime scene, touching Yarmolenko's car.

Both of them are guilty, said Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell.

Cassada died of a heart attack the day before his murder trial was supposed to begin.

Family friends say Carver is innocent and point to the fact that neither his nor his cousin's DNA was found on the murder weapons.

We stand by them 100 percent because these people didn't do it and there is a murderer on the loose, said family friend Leslie Sellars.

The Yarmolenko family and prosecutors say there's no doubt the right man is heading to prison.

How else did Carver know how tall Yarmolenko was? Carver claimed he never saw the 20-year-old or her car, but he knew her height.

Carver, who said he'd never met this girl, didn't know anything about her, was able to say she came up to right here on me. He knew her height -- perfect height if he was strangling her, Bell said.

That let us know he had been close to her, he knew how tall she was, he'd been in contact with her and that was very damaging to Mr. Carver's declaration of not guilty, said juror Tom Newsom.
There had to be two people included in her death and by Mr. Carver's own statement it was only he and Mr. Cassada there.

As for the motive, prosecutors didn't need to establish one for the conviction.

They pointed out that it apparently doesn't take much to make Carver angry -- evidenced by Carver shooting his own son a few months before Yarmolenko's death. Carver's son didn't press charges against his father.

Carver's defense team said they plan to appeal the guilty verdict.

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