Murder charges were dropped Wednesday morning against a Lakeville man who was accused of killing a woman who remains missing.

Two counts of second-degree murder without intent and one count of criminal vehicular homicide were dropped against Timothy J. Barr, 51, in Ramsey County District Court in the apparent death of Michelle Lee Newell.

Barr's attorney, Connie Iversen, argued that there was no probable cause to charge her client, no evidence that Newell is dead and that Ramsey County is the wrong jurisdiction since authorities only have general information from informants about something occurring "Up North" and in South Dakota.

"It's a constitutional issue," Iversen said after Wednesday's motion hearing. "They don't have a crime scene. They don't have a body. They have nothing."

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Andrew R.K. Johnson conceded to the jurisdiction argument, leading to the case's dismissal.

Barr let out a loud sigh of relief and nodded his head when Judge Leonardo Castro dismissed the case. His mother, a pastor and several other supporters watched quietly while Newell's friend, Tara Hughes, grew visibly upset.

Authorities believe Newell, 45, of Vadnais Heights, is dead even though her body has not been recovered. Authorities have not said whether they recovered blood evidence or Newell's DNA from a car Barr was allegedly driving at the time of her disappearance, and which was recovered in St. Paul.

Ramsey County authorities said the dismissal won't stop the investigation from moving forward.

"The [Ramsey County attorney's office] agreed there is insufficient evidence to establish that Minnesota is the proper jurisdiction at this time," said a written statement issued by Ramsey County attorney spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein. "The investigation remains active and ongoing. Murder charges could be refiled at a later date, but only after the jurisdictional issues are resolved."

Charges could be refiled in Ramsey County or in other jurisdictions, including outside of Minnesota, he said.

"There are many possibilities that we can't go into at this time," Gerhardstein said.

Ramsey County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Eastham said his office remains in contact with authorities in North and South Dakota in the search for Newell.

"I just look at that as part of the investigation," Eastham said of Wednesday's development.

Authorities still believe Barr was responsible for Newell's death, he said, and that she is buried somewhere in eastern North or South Dakota.

Barr's other family and friends declined to comment after the hearing. Hughes left in tears, holding onto an angel figurine that she brought in memory of her friend.

"It doesn't make sense," said Hughes, who had introduced Barr to Newell. "I don't think this is fair."

Newell has three children and has few other relatives or friends, Hughes said.

Family members reported Newell missing on Sept. 8, noting that they last had contact with her on Aug. 29. Barr and Newell were seen together on a Taco Bell surveillance video in Alexandria, Minn., on Aug. 29.

Newell was last seen alive on Aug. 30 in Cass County, according to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. A Cass County sheriff's deputy made contact with Barr alone on Aug. 31, leading authorities to believe that Newell was killed sometime in that time frame, said Sheriff's Cmdr. Ty Sheridan.

Authorities believe Newell initially left the Twin Cities willingly with Barr.

In mid-September, three informants told police Barr gave them two accounts of what happened. In one, a woman stole a pound of methamphetamine from him and hid it in the woods, and he ran over her by accident when she hid under his car. In the other, he and the woman were going to South Dakota to sell her associates some methamphetamine. She refused his sexual advances and hid under his car, and he accidentally ran over her.

Authorities made a plea several days ago for the public's help in finding Newell's body. They said at the time that they believe she is buried under hay or grass in a farm building in eastern North or South Dakota.

Barr pleaded guilty Wednesday to fleeing police during an attempted arrest in September in the Newell case. That charge was filed in a case separate from the murder charges. He remains jailed pending sentencing.

Anyone with information about Newell's whereabouts is asked to call 651-266-7320 or 911.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib