By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota family says they finally have closure after a man was sentenced in the 31-year-old murder of their beloved grandmother.

The murder of 81-year-old Lillian Kuller in her St. Paul home in 1987 went unsolved for decades until new DNA testing in 2017 led them to her killer.

Michael Withers was about to get out of Stillwater prison on a burglary charge, but the Ramsey County attorney accelerated the case. In September, Withers pled guilty.

Lillian Kuller was a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer, a widow who lived alone in her St. Paul home. On February 1, 1987 her body was found in her bed. She had been strangled and smothered.

Her confessed killer, 60-year-old Withers, listened as Lillian’s grandson told the Judge the murder has left them with decades of anguish and questions.

“Why was a tiny, gentle, frail 81-year-old woman with emphysema and cancer physically attacked to such extreme?” Mark Kuller said. “Feeling relieved in a sense that he’s finally been sentenced and put away. Not long enough, in my opinion.”

Back in 1987, Withers lived just a mile from Lillian Kuller. He already had a long history of burglaries in the area. But prosecutors say they had nothing to connect him directly to the murder.

After 2017 DNA tests linked Withers to the murder, he confessed as part of a plea deal. In court, he showed no remorse but went on a rant against prosecutors and the Judge.

“You and the DA have made it about you and what you hope to gain in the future by your lack of empathy or integrity in this case, as you both seek political favor by said actions today,” Withers said.

The Kuller family was shocked.

After the sentencing, Mark Kuller said, “how can you not look us in the face and tell us why or tell us your sorry and remorseful.”

The family says they are grateful to the Judge and prosecutors and are hoping their story will lead St. Paul to restore more funding for cold cases.

“The thing that is the most important is to help other people and we are trying to the cold teams funding and to get them reactivated,” Mark Kuller said.

Under the plea deal, Withers was sentenced to 20 years in prison. With good behavior and time served, he could be released in 12 to 15 years.

Esme Murphy

  1. Change the “sentencing guidelines” so we can keep these sub-humans locked up for ever..