Murderer in St. Paul cold case sentenced to 20 years in prison

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A 31-year-old cold case came to a close as the man who murdered an 81-year-old St. Paul woman learned his fate.

The answers to her death eluded them for three decades. In early 1987, officers investigated a break-in at her St. Paul apartment. They found a ransacked home and signs of struggle. Lillian Kuller was found strangled, but nothing was stolen.

“Why was a gentle, tiny, frail 81-year-old woman with emphysema and cancer physically attacked to such extreme?” said Mark Kuller, Lilian’s grandson.

In Ramsey County court, her grandson Mark gave the lone impact statement during the sentencing of 60-year-old Michael Withers, who pleaded guilty to the murder in September.

“We realize we may never have the complete answer of why, regardless many of us have come to a sense of peace over the years,” said Mark.

Withers was already in prison and had been a suspect soon after Lillian’s murder as he was connected to a string of burglaries in the area, including another assault on a homeowner. Advances in DNA technology finally connected him to Lillian’s murder.

In court, Lillian’s family hoped to hear an apology, an explanation. Withers only criticized allowing a camera inside the courtroom for the sentencing.

“Next, I would like to address you, your honor, and the district attorney of Ramsey County, which have turned these court proceedings into a media circus for your own political gain,” said Withers.

The judge noted his 13 felony convictions before giving him 20 more years in prison.

“Mr. Withers, you have engaged in a criminal lifestyle with reckless disregard for others,” said Judge Robyn Millenacker. “Your behavior’s been violent, it’s been selfish, it’s been greedy.”

Afterward the sentencing, Lillian’s family made clear the camera in court was their choice, hoping news of Lillian’s murder being solved can help similar cold cases.

“We don’t have to think about it anymore,” said Cindy Brill, Lilian’s granddaughter. “We can just remember the good memories and not remember what happened to her that took away our memories.”

The new sentence runs concurrent to those Withers is already serving. Of the new 20-year sentence, he must serve at least 13 years before he's eligible for supervised release.