MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A 53-year-old man was charged Friday in the 2008 killing of a University of Wisconsin-Madison student who was found strangled and stabbed in her downtown apartment after she returned home from class.
David Kahl was charged with first-degree intentional homicide as a party to a crime and by use of a dangerous weapon. The charges come 12 years after the April 2, 2008, death of 21-year-old Brittany Zimmermann, whose killing rocked the city of Madison. Kahl was in custody Friday on a drunken driving offense and did not yet have an attorney in the murder case.
Kahl’s name had been mentioned in connection with Zimmermann’s death before, but police did not name him as a suspect. It wasn’t entirely clear from police or the criminal complaint as to why Kahl was being charged now, but the complaint says that last April, authorities took a letter out of evidence and had it tested for DNA. In August, they learned that Kahl’s DNA matched the DNA found on the seal of the envelope.
That letter, received by authorities in April 2009, had a return address of Fox Lake Correctional Institution and indicated it was from an inmate who said he overheard another inmate discuss being involved in Zimmermann’s death.
Zimmermann was studying medical microbiology and immunology when she was killed. At the time, police said she had just returned home from classes when someone followed her into her apartment. She lived with her fiance and their three cats at the time, and her fiance discovered her body. An autopsy report found that she died of “complex homicidal violence.”
According to the criminal complaint, Kahl was in Zimmerman’s neighborhood at the time of her death, and had been knocking on doors and asking people for money, saying he needed to fix a flat tire. One witness said he even came into her house to ask for money, and she told him to leave.
The criminal complaint says that dispatch received a 911 call from Zimmermann’s cellphone on the day she died, and analysis of the call showed that a female could be heard screaming, before there were muffled sounds and the call disconnected.
Kahl was interviewed several times by police over the years. At times, he told them he was high on crack cocaine and was working a scam to get money, and he also said he was a paranoid schizoprhenic who wasn’t taking his medications, the complaint states. He mentioned being with other people and told different versions of what he remembered about going to Zimmermann’s house. In 2008, he allegedly told a fellow inmate that he was worried his fingerprints would be found on Zimmerman, including around her throat. In 2014, he told police he believed the people he was with were responsible for Zimmerman’s death, the complaint says.
In 2016, several media outlets reported that Kahl’s DNA matched a spot on the clothing Zimmermann was wearing at the time of her death.
Police said Friday that they didn’t give up their search for justice for 12 years, conducting hundreds of interviews and processing countless pieces of evidence. Over the years, her parents have repeatedly asked anyone with information to come forward, and there have been rewards offered in the case.
“The dedication and persistence of those tasked with investigating this case — past and present — has never wavered,” police said in a statement.
Zimmermann’s parents, Kevin and Jean, released a statement Friday thanking police and prosecutors for not giving up, and thanking friends and family for their support.
“Having charges filed is just the beginning of justice for Brittany, which is what we have wanted from the start of this horrible tragedy,” the statement said. “Nothing will bring our beautiful daughter back and we continue to feel that pain every day.”