FARMINGTON — Convicted killer Edward Lewis Owens stunned a packed courtroom Thursday by taking the unusual step of being sworn in and then admitting he strangled Karin Strom to death in her Woods Cross home 28 years ago.
It all began when Strom's estranged husband, Steve Strom, hatched a murder-for-hire plot, Owens announced during his sentencing, as many audience members gasped aloud.
"It was probably three or four months before Karin was killed. Mr. Strom had asked me to kill his wife on several occasions. He offered me half of her life-insurance money to do it," Owens said.
He told 2nd District Judge John Morris that he had misgivings and went to Karin Strom on June 6, 1980, to warn her of her husband's intentions so she could get out of the house.
"There was an argument between her and I, and I ended up strangling her," Owens confessed. "The way I got in, Mr. Strom gave me the key to her house."
Steve Strom was once charged with killing his wife, but the charge was later dismissed, and investigators focused on Owens.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings confirmed Thursday that his office is actively investigating Steve Strom, particularly since Owens relinquished key appeal rights by making this sworn statement in court.
"We're going to keep an open mind," Rawlings said later, declining to elaborate about anything more that may have come to light regarding the brutal murder of the 25-year-old woman.
Asked why Owens waited nearly 29 years to make this admission, Rawlings replied, "He thought he could get away with it. He was wrong."
The judge sentenced Owens, 58, to the prison term that was on the books in 1980 for first-degree murder: five years to life behind bars. How much of that Owens serves is up to the parole board.
Coco Saltzgiver, Karin Strom's sister, tearfully told Owens in court that he took away her best friend.
"I loved her dearly, and you took her away from me — you took her away from our family," she said, her voice shaking and tears streaming down her cheeks. "You had no right! You consciously made a choice to kill another human being. Why?"
However, Saltzgiver said she plans to turn Owens' sentencing into the day that she jettisons all the ugliness surrounding her sister's bloody and degrading death. Instead, Saltzgiver said, she will observe it as the day that healing begins by remembering all the beauty and joy her sister brought to life.
Saltzgiver particularly recalled Karin Strom's sense of fun: When a car got a scratch, for example, Karin Strom playfully put a bandage on it.
Prosecutors previously had suspected Steve Strom in his wife's death and even charged him with killing her. But the charge was later dropped for lack of evidence. Owens was then charged with killing her in 2007, but prosecutors also dismissed that case. They refiled the murder charge eight months later, and a jury returned a guilty verdict on April 2, 2009.
Michael Studebaker, Owens' attorney, said that his client spoke out Thursday because he wanted to help Karin Strom's family get closure and wanted Steve Strom brought to justice. "He has expressed remorse for what happened multiple times," Studebaker said.
Before the sentencing, the judge ruled that there could be no official mention of two acquittals that Owens received for crimes he was tried for years ago.
In another surprise twist, a woman who identified herself only as Kimberly said she wanted to address the court at Owens' sentencing, but the judge would not permit it.
Kimberly, standing by Coco Saltzgiver's side after the sentencing, accused Owens of trying to kill her in 1973 in a remote area in California. "He beat me up, raped me, stabbed me, strangled me, and picked up a rock and beat me until he thought I was dead."
Kimberly said Owens went on trial in a Torrance, Calif., court and was acquitted of attempted murder kidnapping, robbery and rape "because his family had an alibi for him."
She claimed she always feared he would hurt someone else and came across this case after accidentally stumbling across a newspaper article about Owens.
Saltzgiver, who said she believes she has found "a friend for life" in Kimberly, urged everyone who loved Karin Strom to use this day to put aside ugly memories and celebrate the beauty in life and loved ones.
Saltzgiver's message was this: "Everyone involved, our family, friends, everyone who knows Karin and Kimberly: Let this be the day you let it go."