14 years after Brittany Zimmermann’s murder, David Kahl pleads guilty

MADISON, Wis. — The man who killed UW-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann inside her downtown Madison apartment has admitted his guilt more than 14 years after the murder.

David Kahl, 56, of Madison was sentenced to life in prison Thursday after agreeing to a plea deal. Under the terms of the agreement, in exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors said the state would not contest a petition from Kahl for extended supervision after serving 20 years of his sentence.

The defense requested that Kahl be sentenced to life immediately so that he could be transferred to Dodge Correctional Institution to undergo treatment for health issues they argued could be better served by the prison system than the Dane County Jail.

Judge Taylor will make a decision on whether Kahl will be allowed to file for extended supervision at any point in the future during a sentencing hearing on January 12, 2023. While the plea deal was agreed to by both the prosecution and the defense, Judge Taylor does not need to abide by the deal during sentencing.

Members of Zimmermann’s family will be allowed to speak at that sentencing hearing, but also got the opportunity to speak at Thursday’s plea hearing. Kimberly Heeg, Zimmermann’s aunt, spoke after Kahl’s request to begin serving his sentence in the state prison system immediately.

“I think it takes a lot of audacity for someone in custody to request a transfer from the county jail to the state prison because he thinks he will get better medical care after he has stripped my family of an incredibly loved and amazing human who wanted to do nothing but good things in this world,” Heeg said.

She said she did not object to Kahl beginning his life sentence Thursday, but called the reason for the request “nothing short of obnoxious.”

“I’m glad that he has been able to tell the court that he is guilty, I’m glad that he feels that he has a clear conscience at this point, but we as a family have nothing but pain. We have nothing but daily reminders and we’ve had nothing but torture for 14 and a half years while he did his soul-searching to decided to come clean,” Heeg said.

Kahl was arrested for Zimmermann’s murder — one of the City of Madison’s most notable unsolved crimes — in March 2020.

Zimmermann, a student at UW-Madison from Marshfield, was found dead in her apartment on the 500 block of West Doty Street on April 2, 2008. Police said she had just returned home from classes when someone followed her into her apartment and killed her.

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Kahl had previously been a person of interest in the case, with DNA reportedly connecting him to the crime scene. A man who had been in federal prison with Kahl in West Virginia previously told investigators that Kahl broke down and confessed to him that he had killed Zimmermann, but that man died in a crash in 2017.

The criminal complaint in the case indicated multiple people reported interactions with a stranger asking for money in the area on that day. Several people identified Kahl as the person in question, with one woman saying he knocked on her door and entered her home without permission before asking for money. Another person said Kahl left his Wisconsin Department of Corrections Offender ID card in exchange for $20.

Kahl was later questioned by investigators multiple times, eventually telling police he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was off his medication, and was high on drugs when he was asking people for money, but denied forcing his way into any homes.

Kahl was serving an unrelated sentence at Oshkosh Correctional Institution and was nearing release when he was charged with Zimmermann’s murder.