Attorneys argued Friday whether a public records lawsuit filed by the family of Rebecca Zahau, whose bound and nude body was found hanging from a balcony at a historic Coronado mansion, should continue.
The suit filed against the San Diego County Sheriff's Department seeks the department's investigatory records into the homicide, in which sheriff's officials twice concluded that Zahau's 2011 death was a suicide. Zahau was found July 13, 2011, hanging by her neck above a rear courtyard at her boyfriend's beachfront summer home. She was gagged, with her ankles bound and her wrists tied behind her back.
In the latest suit, the Zahau family's attorney, Keith Greer, alleges the sheriff's department selectively disclosed their investigatory files to the public, while withholding information in violation of the California Public Records Act. County attorneys have argued the information Zahau's family seeks, including Sheriff Bill Gore's instructions to an independent panel of investigators who reexamined the case in 2018, are exempt from disclosure under the CPRA.
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The Zahau family's suit alleges Gore's instructions to the panel "were designed to make it virtually impossible for the panel to do anything other than support Sheriff's Gore initial determination that Rebecca committed suicide."
While San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor issued a tentative ruling on Wednesday in the Zahau family's favor, keeping the suit alive, the judge did not finalize his ruling during a Friday court hearing and instead took the matter under submission.
Greer told reporters outside court following the hearing, "Any time we've asked for anything that undermines the sheriff's opinion that this was suicide, they just fight tooth and nail not to let it out. The only reason I can think they'd do this is they're hiding something."
Despite the sheriff's findings of suicide, Adam Shacknai, the brother of Zahau's boyfriend, was found liable in her death by a San Diego civil jury, which awarded Zahau's family more than $5 million in damages. The case was later dismissed at the behest of the Zahau family's attorney, Keith Greer, with a settlement reached between the family and Shacknai's insurance company.
Zahau's family contends that Shacknai murdered her, possibly in retaliation for the death of his 6-year-old nephew Max, who suffered an ultimately fatal fall while in Zahau's care, days before she was found dead. In 2019, Zahau's family announced it would offer a $100,000 reward for anyone offering new information that could lead to Shacknai's arrest and conviction.