Mark Carver and his cousin Neal Cassada were originally charged in the death of 20-year-old Irina Yarmolenko, but Cassada died of an apparent heart attack in prison on the eve of his trial.
Yarmolenko was found on the banks of the Catawba River in 2008. An autopsy showed she was strangled.
DNA from both men was found in Yarmolenko's car, but the defense attorney said the predominant DNA profile belonged to someone else.
Police said Yarmolenko's body was found next to her car and it appeared someone tried to roll it into the water.