Digging Deeper: New state DNA law aims to close unsolved cases l - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Digging Deeper: New state DNA law aims to close unsolved cases like Zimmermann murder

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MADISON (WKOW) -- This week marks seven years since UW-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann was killed inside her Madison apartment.

The 21-year-old was found dead at her home on W. Doty Street on April 2, 2008. The horror of not knowing what happened that day still haunts her family. Brittany's murder remains unsolved, though police have connected DNA found at the scene to that of another crime, but that DNA hasn't matched any known suspects.

"We had known that there's been DNA probably within the first couple months of Brittany being murdered and to hope and wait to find that match has been extremely hard for us," says Jean Zimmermann, Brittany's mother.

But now, the Zimmermanns are confident a new state law will bring Brittany justice when it takes effect April 1. That law will require offenders to give a DNA sample when arrested for one of about 60 violent felonies. Also, any person found guilty of a misdemeanor will submit a sample. Until now, only offenders convicted of a felony would provide DNA samples.

The State Crime Lab, run by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, will end up analyzing six times as many DNA samples every year, expecting about 80,000, up from 12,000.

Those samples will end up in the statewide DNA database and the FBI's database called CODIS. The goal is to find matches for the more than 600,000 case profiles nationwide without an identified suspect.

"Just in our state database we have over 14,000 of those case profiles that we don't know who the suspect is but they've committed some serious crimes," says David Zibolski, deputy administrator of the DOJ's Division of Law Enforcement Services. "In most instances, those individuals are continuing to commit other crimes and it's just kind of the cycle of criminal behavior. So identifying someone early on, identifying some of these pending cases, will prevent these individuals from being involved in future crimes and eliminating future victimization."

The DOJ has hired two dozen new employees who have just moved into a newly-renovated facility in March. For a year and a half the lab has been streamlining its work, hoping to prevent a backlog that's been seen in the past. Right now, it takes about 35 to 45 days to complete a report, down from a more than 200 day wait almost a decade ago. Zibolski says he's confident the lab will be able to handle the additional samples.

It's not just more work for the lab. Since more DNA samples will be collected upon arrest, jails across the state are preparing for the additional steps when booking inmates. They'll be swabbing inmates' mouths and sending DNA kits to the State Crime Lab in Madison.

"Once we get the kit here and a person has completed their fingerprints and we get their arrest tracking number, we're actually able to proceed to collect the sample from the subject at that time," says David Zajicek, with the Dane County Jail.

For misdemeanor convictions, the samples will be collected at the jail after court proceedings.

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney tells 27 News the department will have to wait and see how they'll be affected by the extra work. He says the sheriff's office will not get any funding to do more collections but doesn't think it'll have an overwhelming impact on the agency. Offenders will have to pay a DNA collection fee when convicted.

Mahoney says he is looking forward to the chance to solve more crimes.

"There is a likelihood by the collection of new arrests, both felons and misdemeanants, and at time of conviction, that we will collect data that ultimately will solve some of our cold cases, not only in this county but across the state of Wisconsin and potentially across this country," Mahoney tells 27 News.

Mahoney hopes more DNA evidence will build stronger cases for investigators, meaning prosecutors are more likely to convict the right suspects.

That brings a renewed hope to the Zimmermann family, still seeking answers seven years after losing Brittany. The Zimmermanns had been working closely with lawmakers to see this law go into effect.

"We really hope that this does give us the closure that we've been looking for, finding the person who killed our daughter," Jean Zimmermann says.


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