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Family Gets Answers After DNA Leads to Charges in 30-Year Cold Case

March 16, 2017 06:53 PM

After more than 30 years, the family of Lillian Kuller has answers about who killed her in 1987 in her Goodrich Avenue home. 

On Thursday, Ramsey County announced DNA evidence linking convicted burglar Michael Anthony Withers to the crime. He has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder with intent, not premeditated, and without intent while committing a felony.

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Withers could face up to 40 years in prison, if convicted. He is currently an inmate at Stillwater serving a 68-month sentence for two burglaries, which he pleaded guilty to in 2014.

According to the criminal complaint, police responded to a report of an apparent homicide on Feb. 1, 1987. A tenant told police she went to check on Kuller and found her dead in the bedroom.

The apartment was "ransacked," according to the criminal complaint. Officers noticed drawers in the living and dining rooms were pulled out and some dumped.

Kuller, 81, was found with a pillow over her head and upper body, the complaint reports.  

Police found shoe prints in the snow below the window and in the alley. 

A window was found open, but the front and back doors did not show sign of forced entry. 

The medical examiner determined the cause of death was "asphyxia associated with assault." 

Police collected finger nail clippings and Kuller's clothes, and the BCA found a blood stain on the nightgown. It turned out to be a partial profile from a female, and the fingernail clippings had DNA from two more more individuals. At least one was male, according to the criminal complaint.

Withers DNA was in a database from a previous conviction.

Withers had an extensive criminal history, and was released from Ramsey County Jail on Jan. 27, 1987, just days before Kuller's death. 

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Withers was an initial suspect in the 1987 case, but there was not enough evidence to link him to the scene. 

Choi also said a woman who was also a suspect was ruled out with the newest DNA tests. 

In 2012, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension tried to test hair from a pillow in Kuller's bedroom, but it did not match Withers or the female suspect.

Choi said his office declined to file charges against either suspect. 

Ramsey County reopened the investigation in 2016 and used hair from Kuller to compare DNA to other profiles, which helped authorities determine that Kuller couldn't be excluded from the DNA mix, the complaint states.

In March 2017, the BCA ran Y-chromosome tests across pieces of evidence. At least two profiles and three partial profiles matched Withers. 

"I really believe that fresh eyes and perspective can make a big difference in these cold cases and in our pursuit of justice," Choi said. "In this case, further forensic testing within the past year developed more confirmation (of) Michael Withers and his presence at the crime scene in 1987."  

Kuller's grandson, who was a teenager at the time of the incident, spoke during the news conference, saying, "It's been a long time coming and it's a great relief to myself and my whole family to have the police and the cold case team and everybody involved working so hard and diligently to have this come to fruition."

Withers' first court appearance is schedule for March 24. 

Judy Brill waited longer than she ever thought possible for this day. 

Kuller's daughter told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she was not expecting resolution.

"I almost dropped when I got the call, because I never thought it would come and I did not even know how to react when I was told they were going to charge someone with her murder," she said.

Kuller wants to see justice served, but said she is not out for revenge.

"I do not want to hold any spitefulness or hate toward him," she said. "And I do not want to see him, or talk to him. But I do want him to see his own karma."

Credits

Theresa Malloy and Jay Kolls

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