BILLINGS — It was an unlikely ending to a haunting cold case - a killer comes forward more than 20 years after a string of violent crime ending with the murder of 18-year-old Miranda Fenner. The admission, apprehension, and sentencing of Zachary O’Neill closed the investigation — but the grief and pain his victims carry will last a lifetime.
Twenty-four years after the crime, a Billings woman who was violently attacked by O’Neill is turning her anonymity into action in a program that brings victims of crime and convicted felons together to heal.
Julia Lillethun was raped and stabbed by O'Neill in September 1998. She recalled, “I received several stab wounds in my hands. He almost severed my thumb off and I knew that I couldn't keep fighting him off. I was worn out and tired and exhausted...and terror. The terror and the fear and it paralyzes you.”
O'Neill raped another woman a week later. And then, November 15th, he struck again - murdering 18-year old Miranda Fenner, who was working at a video store in Laurel.
Lillethun said, “I felt there was a connection there. And I did ask the detectives and they said, no, it was two totally different M.Os and they weren't even related at all.”
For years, the investigation continued, but there were no arrests. But then, 42-year old O'Neill came forward and confessed to it all.
On March 21, 2017, O’Neill was interviewed by Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies about an unrelated case. It was during that interview that O’Neill confessed to the 1998 crime.
O'Neill was sentenced to three life terms in prison for both the murder of Fenner and the rape and attempted murder of Lillethun.
Now Lillethun is stepping forward in an effort to help other victims of crime.
Over the last year, she has been traveling the state, talking to inmates as part of the Montana Department of Corrections' "Victim Impact Panels," a 13-week program designed to build empathy and reduce recidivism.
She said, “I went into it thinking that I was helping others, but they have helped me."
As Lillethun prepares for her next presentation at the Montana State Prison, where O’Neill is currently housed, she hopes to bring other people out of the shadows and down the path of healing.
- Teen felony suspect arrested
- Chick-fil-A: new Montana location
- Rotating menu at Mise En Place
- Two much 'dab' for 2 students
- 'Suspicious' death in Great Falls
- Buy Powerball tickets online?
Some important resources Lillethun wants to share:
Victim Impact Panels – Montana Department of Corrections, Victim Services Program –CORVictimLiaison@mt.gov, Victim Services Helpline (406) 444-0447 or (888) 223-6332
Victim Support Network MT Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1171770960261684
Victim Support Network Database – Francis Meagher, Founding Member: (406) 560-3619, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Doe No More / John Doe No More, www.janedoenomore.org
Jane Doe No More Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/janedoenomore
JDNM Survivors Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/128392780835772
Jane Doe No More MT – Barb Jenkins – email@example.com, (406) 240-9648