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COA rejects state’s appeal in Mark Carver case

Prosecutors won’t be able to appeal a ruling granting a new trial to a Gaston County man convicted of killing a college student, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has unanimously ruled.

Mark Carver was convicted in 2011 of murdering a UNC-Charlotte student who died near the Catawba River in 2008, but the prosecution’s case was overwhelmingly reliant on a scientifically dubious method of DNA analysis, and in 2016, the Charlotte Observer published the results of a lengthy investigation which raised serious doubts about Carver’s guilt and the fairness of his trial.

In 2019 Gaston County Superior Court Judge Christopher Bragg ruled that Carver was entitled to a new trial because of both newly discovered evidence casting doubt upon his guilt and, separately, ineffective assistance. Generally, the state can’t appeal a ruling granting a defendant a new trial, but there’s an exception which allows appeals when a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.

The state appealed the portion of Bragg’s ruling related to the new evidence, but in an April 20, Judge Richard Dietz said that any appeal would be futile because the two issues were mutually exclusive. The ineffective assistance finding, which by itself would entitle Carver to a new trial, was based on his counsel’s failure to either investigate Carver’s medical conditions and intellectual disabilities or the science related to prosecutor’s DNA evidence, both of which were available at the time of the trial.

The new evidence, meanwhile, concerned advances in DNA analysis that seriously undermined the prosecution’s case.

“These two claims are based on entirely separate facts and legal issues. They are not inextricably intertwined and thus the right to appeal one ruling does not confer a right to appeal the other,” Dietz wrote.

Prosecutors still have other options for seeking appellate review, but the ruling makes it even more likely that they will either need to file new charges against Carver or dismiss the case entirely.

Staff reports

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