DNA testing leads to charges in St. Paul woman's death 30 years ago

Lillian Kuller was killed during an apparent burglary in 1987.

After 30 years, a man has finally been charged in the death of an 81-year-old St. Paul woman.

Michael Anthony Withers, 58, was charged Thursday with two counts of second-degree murder in the death of Lillian Kuller, who was found dead in her "ransacked" apartment on Feb. 1, 1987.

Investigators were finally able to bring charges after a review of the cold case and additional DNA tests that showed Withers' DNA matched evidence found at the scene of the crime, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office said in a news release.

"Every cold case represents unachieved justice for our community and uncertainty for surviving family and friends. Each case weighs heavily on the minds of police investigators and prosecutors. We have proven, through intentional efforts, dedication and hard work, that these cases can be solved - especially with the evolution of forensic testing and investigator training,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in the release.

According to the criminal complaint:

Police responded to a report of a homicide on Feb. 1, 1987, and found Kuller's body in her bedroom with a pillow over her head. There were no signs of forced entry into the home, but there was an open window, with police noting the apartment had been "ransacked."

An autopsy found Kuller had hemorrhages between her skull and scalp, multiple abrasions on her head and hemorrhages on her neck, with the medical examiner ruling her cause of death as "asphyxia associated with assault" – a homicide.

Investigators weren't able to identify a suspect at the time, and in 2010 the St. Paul Police Department did a review of the case.

The police department asked the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to run forensic tests again on fingernail clippings that were collected from Kuller during the autopsy, as well as on Kuller's clothes and other evidence collected from the scene.

The test found a DNA mixture from two people "who could not be excluded as being a possible contributor to the mixture" of DNA, while the testing did rule out 99.9995 percent of the general population as contributors to the DNA mixture found.

Those two people: a woman from St. Cloud and Withers (his DNA was in the system from a previous crime – he had been released from prison on Jan. 27, 1987).

Investigators weren't able to find any connection between these two people and Kuller, and in 2013, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office decided there wasn't enough conclusive evidence to charge either of them with a crime.

Then, in 2016, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office re-opened the investigation and asked the BCA to do more testing, which found the DNA mixture previous tests had linked to a woman in St. Cloud wasn't hers – it was likely Kuller's.

Additional testing (called Y-chromosome tests) completed on March 13, 2017, found Withers' DNA, with investigators coming to the conclusion that the DNA mixture found previously was a mixture of Kuller's and Withers' – no one else's.

Withers has a long criminal history dating back to 1985, including many convictions for burglary. In many of those cases, he admitted to getting into the victims' homes through a window.

Withers is currently in prison, serving out a sentence for two different 2013 burglaries that happened not far from Kuller's home, the complaint says. His current sentence is expected to end on Oct. 17, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections. If he's convicted in Kuller's death, he could face up to 40 years in prison for each charge.

Withers will make his first court appearance on these charges on March 24 at 1:30 p.m.

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