FARMINGTON — Edward Lewis Owens walked out of the courthouse a free man Friday after charges were dropped in the 27-year-old cold case murder of Karin Strom, who was found strangled to death in her Woods Cross home.

Second District Judge Jon Memmott dismissed the first-degree felony murder charge against Owens at the request of the Davis County Attorney's Office. Owens, 57, was due to go on trial in January.

"I'm relieved," Owens told a group of reporters after the hearing and before getting an ankle monitor removed. "I'm going to enjoy Christmas with my family."

The attorney's office said Owens still "remains one of the primary suspects" in the case and it was dismissed without prejudice, which means charges could be filed again.

As far as the prosecutors are concerned, the case will still be investigated and Owens could once again end up in court.

Prosecutors said new DNA testing looked "compelling" as far as implicating Owens in Strom's death. However, additional testing raised red flags and "cast enough doubt" that it looked unlikely that a jury would convict Owens.

Michael Studebaker, Owens' attorney, said sperm found under Karin Strom's fingernails was the material that was tested, and the additional examination of the sample showed it could not be determined for certain whose sperm it was.

Earlier, a DNA profile of the sample had a numeric sequence that matched Owens' DNA profile, which was obtained from a blood sample he gave police, Studebaker said.

However, there originally was no microscopic examination of what was under the nails. Once that type of testing was done, the material was "too degraded" to provide accurate information, Studebaker said, although it is likely it could have belonged to Owens.

This type of testing also destroys the sample, Studebaker said.

Studebaker also said that, even without the additional test information, he was confident that the evidence in the case would show a jury that Owens did not commit this murder.

Studebaker declined to say whether Owens had been having an affair with Strom but said the new information exonerates Owens, in his opinion, because even if it is probable that the DNA belonged to Owens, that doesn't mean Owens took part in the particularly violent murder.

"The last time he saw Karin Strom, she was alive," Studebaker said.

Strom was 25 when she was killed in her Woods Cross home on June 6, 1980. Her husband, Steve Strom, who worked with Owens, at one point was charged with her murder. Those charges also were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Owens said he is sorry Strom's family has had to go through this type of situation twice. He also said it was miserable being in jail for eight months before being released on an ankle monitor in November.

Although Owens said he was generally optimistic about the outcome of his case, he had moments of despair and worried about a possible life-long prison term.

But when going through the discovery process, which is when prosecutors provide defense attorneys with evidence in a case, Owens said he would think, "They don't have anything — what am I doing here?"

He said he was at home when he learned of Karin Strom's killing and was "shocked" at the news.

One of his daughters, Jessica Owens, also expressed sympathy for the Strom family but added that she is delighted that her father is free and can enjoy Christmas with her children.

Owens' sister, Lisa Carlson, also said she and other family members have supported Owens from the start. "We just know he wouldn't do this."

E-mail: [email protected]