Someone strangled Rebecca Zahau first before she was lowered over the balcony of a Coronado mansion in 2011, an attorney told jurors in San Diego Wednesday.
Attorney Keith Greer outlined several key pieces of evidence he says prove Adam Shacknai, 55, is responsible for Zahau's death.
Her death was ruled a suicide by investigators with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, but Greer outlined several points of evidence that he said shows the death was not a suicide.
“Not one single witness will testify that Adam Shacknai did any of those things,” defense attorney Dan Webb said.
Shacknai's attorney told jurors that law enforcement officers already investigated the case and came to a conclusion. His client had nothing to do with it.
"Adam Shacknai's fingerprints were found nowhere," he said.
On July 13, 2011, Zahau was found hanged at the home belonging to her boyfriend Jonah Shacknai. Jonah Shacknai's brother, Adam found her. It happened just a few days after Jonah Shacknai's son, Max, died in an accident at the mansion.
Adam Shacknai called 911 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.
He also said that two minutes into the call, Adam Shacknai cuts down Zahau, moved rope bindings, checked her pulse, took the gag out of her mouth and performed CPR.
"There's none of his DNA anywhere," Greer said.
A cryptic message found painted on a door above the body stated: "She saved him can you save her." Greer said the family believes the "she" is Zahau and the "him" is Jonah Shacknai's son, Max.
“We don’t know who the 'you' is, we don’t know who is this message to,” he said. “We certainly believe this does not show it was a suicide note.”
He said an expert will testify the message was likely painted by a person who is 5-feet, 10 inches to 6 feet tall. Zahau was 5-foot, 3-inches to 5-foot, 4-inches tall. Adam Shacknai is 5-foot, 11-inches, Greer said.
The only print found on the tube of paint was on the cap and it was Zahau's, he said, adding that whoever painted the message left no fingerprints along the tube.
“Something made those disappear,” Greer said. “They are not there.”
The family also believes the door knobs and jams in the room were wiped clean.
The defense attorney said he will have experts testify that it is not possible to wipe one person’s DNA off an item without wiping other DNA as well.
The distance from the balcony to the ground was 9 feet, the plaintiff's attorney said. Greer told jurors an expert will testify that when the strength of gravity and the force Zahau would've undergone at the bottom of the rope are taken into consideration, Zahauo would have been partially, if not totally, decapitated.
He also mentioned the bed in the room above the balcony moved seven inches. An expert will testify the bed would've moved significantly more with that drop and the weight of Zahau's body, he said.
“There’s a huge amount of energy here that’s not accounted for,” Greer said.
Also, the injuries Zahau suffered are more consistent with a strangulation than a hanging, according to Greer.
The height of the balcony brings up questions regarding the manner of death, the plaintiffs argue. At 3-feet high, the balcony is about half of Zahau's height.
“With her hands tied behind her back and her legs tied, her center of gravity was so low that it would be virtually impossible for her to get herself over that railing on her own,” Greer said.
There are also no footprints showing a person waddling across the balcony before jumping as sheriff's investigators theorized.
Greer told jurors he would provide experts to testify fingerprints on a knife found at the scene line up to suggest Zahau was holding the knife when her arms were already bound behind her back.
After showing what was the last known photograph taken of Zahau, Greer said the clothes seen in the photo have never been found.
There is no criminal case.
The San Diego Sheriff’s Department has been adamant, that after a thorough investigation, Zahau’s death was ruled a suicide.
Shacknai's attorney said his client arrived to San Diego from Nashville on July 12 to show support for his brother after Max's accident.
The night before Zahau's death, Adam and Zahau left the hospital together and drove back to the mansion.
Shacknai was staying in the guest house and left at about 6:45 a.m. the following day, according to his attorney. That's when he noticed Zahau hanging from the balcony, Webb said.
His client will testify in the trial about the events leading up to the day he found Zahau, Webb said. He also told jurors they would hear from multiple law enforcement officials.
Webb said they will also have an expert testify that Zahau's behavior in the weeks before her death include risk factors that are consistent with suicide.
Zahau's family sued to have the case reopened in 2013.
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.
Jonah Shacknai testified in a deposition that his company's stock prices were "under siege" because of the death investigation, Greer said. Jonah Shacknai was founder and CEO of Medicis, a pharmaceutical company based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Jonah Shacknai's company was sold to another pharmaceutical company in September 2012 for $2.8 billion.