San Diego

Jury: Rebecca Zahau Was Killed at Spreckels Mansion

The 2011 death of Rebecca Zahau was not a suicide, jurors decided in a civil verdict read Wednesday.

Jurors determined Adam Shacknai was responsible for the death of Rebecca Zahau, a woman found hanging from the balcony at a Coronado mansion in 2011.

Jurors were asked to answer two questions in this civil trial: Did Adam Shacknai touch Rebecca Zahau before her death with the intent to harm her? The jury's vote was yes 9 to 3.

For the wrongful death verdict, did that touching cause the death of Rebecca Zahau? The jury's vote was also yes 9 to 3. 

They determined Shacknai owed Zahau's mother, Pari Zahau approximately $5,167,000 in damages. 

After the verdict, the Zahau family thanked the jury for "spending so many weeks to get justice for Rebecca." 

"Adam Shacknai doesn't have money. This isn't about money," said C. Keith Greer, family attorney for the Zahaus. "It's about getting the sheriff's department to open this up, do their job. This clearly isn't a suicide." 

Shacknai looked down throughout the reading of the verdict. He has not been criminally charged in the case.

Mary Zahau-Loehner, Zahau's sister, wiped tears from her face as she listened to the verdict. Greer turned around to the spectators at one point and gave a thumbs up.

Zahau, 30, was found dead at the Spreckels mansion more than six years ago.

Zahau's family filed the $10 million civil suit claiming that her death was not a suicide as determined following an investigation by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Greer outlined several key pieces of evidence he said proved Shacknai, a 55-year-old tugboat captain, is responsible for Zahau's death.

Shacknai called 911 on July 13, 2011, and reported the death as a suicide, Greer said. He argued that no one would look at a woman in Zahau's state — nude, bound and hanging from a balcony — and say the woman killed herself.

Defense attorney Dan Webb argued that law enforcement officers had already investigated the case and determined it to be a suicide.

Zahau's death came days after her boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai's 6-year-old son, Max, took a deadly fall while she was watching the boy.  

Zahau's family sued to have the case reopened in 2013. 

"Hopefully people will know that she didn't commit suicide and she was murdered," Zahau-Loehner said outside the Hall of Justice after the verdict Wednesday. 

They criticized the sheriff's investigators' theory that Zahau herself tied a series of intricate knots on her hands behind her back, put the noose over her head and propelled herself off the mansion's balcony. 

Sheriff's investigators even released a video that they say shows how it can be done.

"I hope that the sheriff's department is paying some attention," the plaintiff's attorney said. "We've allowed the public to see that evidence and say, 'Wow how did the sheriff's department and medical examiner's office come up with the conclusions they did.'"

During the civil trial, Adam Shacknai took the stand, saying he found Zahau, immediately called 911 and cut her down. 

When asked what she would say to Sheriff Bill Gore following the verdict, Zahau-Loehner said, "Be honest, be truthful and reopen the case."

"For seven years we had to fight to just prove that she didn't commit suicide, even though we knew she didn't," Zahau-Loehner said through tears. 

Hours after the verdict was read, San Diego County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Lt. Karen Stubkjaer sent a statement to NBC 7.

"We completed a comprehensive and professional investigation and stand behind it. We have no further comment about this civil lawsuit," she said. 

They later released a second statement that said: 

"The San Diego County Sheriff's Department is aware of the recent verdict in the Rebecca Zahau wrongful death civil suit. We have cooperated with all parties on the presentation of evidence and testimony during the trial. Our thoughts are with the Zahau Family as they relive the tragic death of their daughter and sister, Rebecca.

In regards to the criminal investigation, the Sheriff's Department stands by the findings of the Medical Examiner's Office and our investigators. These findings were supported by forensic evidence and medical examinations. We are always open to reviewing any evidence that could impact our conclusions. Additionally, we are also willing to meet with the Zahau Family to look at any new evidence that came out of the civil trial."

The department has collected information regarding its efforts on a special website labeled "Coronado Death Investigation." 

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