David Kahl pled guilty to first-degree intentional homicide in late October for the murder of former University of Wisconsin-Madison student Brittany Zimmerman. Zimmerman, a UW-Madison junior studying microbiology and immunology, was murdered in her apartment on Doty Street in 2008.
Kahl was a longtime suspect in the case, and in 2018 forensic DNA evidence from Zimmerman’s shirt linked him to the crime scene. In March 2020, a case was filed against Kahl.
Kahl admitted his guilt for the first time in conversations with his attorney Benjamin Gonring over the past few weeks. He will serve a mandatory life sentence.
Kahl desired “to do the right thing, to stop the speculation [and his] false accusations,” Gonring said at the Dane County Courthouse. “David wanted today to be about giving closure to some people.”
Kimberly Heeg, Zimmerman’s aunt, also testified in court and argued against the decision to give Kahl a mandatory life sentence now instead of in January at Kahl’s jury trial. Waiting until January would allow Kahl to move to a state facility with better mental health services instead of Dane County Jail, she said.
“I’m glad that he feels that he has a clear conscience at this point, but we, as a family, have nothing but pain,” Heeg said. “We have nothing but daily reminders, and we’ve had nothing but torture for 14.5 years while he did his soul-searching to decide to come clean."
Gonring explained that Kahl was going door to door asking for money to repair a nonexistent flat tire as part of a scheme to get money for cocaine. Kahl was high at the time of the murder and, after exiting the bathroom at Zimmerman’s apartment, encountered her on a call and became paranoid.
“He basically lost it, for lack of a better term. He was in the throes of a lot of drug usage and was paranoid and had not been out of prison for all that long,” Gonring said. “[He] was very worried about what was happening on the other end of that line and then proceeded to do acts which absolutely fit the criteria for first-degree intentional homicide.”
Noe Goldhaber is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in campus and state news reporting.