Family and friends of Rebecca Zahau expressed relief Friday after a Superior Court judge indicated she will not reverse a jury verdict that found Adam Shacknai responsible for Zahau's death.
Judge Katherine Bacal issued a tentative ruling denying Adam Shacknai's request for a new trial, and said she disagreed with claims made by Shacknai's lawyer that the verdict against him was tainted by jury misconduct and incorrect decisions made by the judge during that trial.
Judge Bacal also questioned findings made by the Sheriff's department in its investigation, which concluded that Zahau had killed herself by hanging. In reaching that conclusion, Sheriff's investigators cleared Adam Shacknai of allegations that he killed Zahau.
Last April, in a civil trial, Shacknai was found liable in the death of Zahau. Zahau was found bound, nude and hanging from a balcony at the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado in 2011. The home belonged to Zahau's boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, Adam's brother.
Adam was the last person to see Zahau alive. He found the 32-year-old woman hanging from the balcony at the historic waterfront home.
Zahau's death came just days after Jonah's boyfriend's son, 6-year-old Max Shacknai, took a deadly fall at the mansion, while Zahau was watching the boy.
The high-profile case has prompted years of speculation into the circumstances surrounding Zahau's death. Complicated legal proceedings have followed.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department, including Sheriff Bill Gore, has always maintained that Zahau's death was a suicide. Her family, however, has never believed that.
Following the civil trial, the sheriff's department said it would review the evidence in the case to determine whether to launch a new investigation. In December 2018, the sheriff's department decided it would not change its initial findings on the case; Zahau's official cause of death would remain a suicide.
"After conducting this review, the case team found no evidence that led us to believe that Rebecca Zahau died at the hands of another," Gore said at that time.
Greer called the sheriff's department decision in December 2018 an "improper and biased decision." The attorney said there was "something corrupt" in the investigation and that it's possible Gore and others close to the investigation were influenced by Jonah Shacknai's wealth.
Gore defended his department and maintained that detectives on this case followed the facts and the evidence. Gore responded with a measured but forceful denial.
"I never took any money from Jonah Shacknai in my election or re-election campaigns. That's just not the way we operate," he said. "And to be quite honest, I take personal offense at that, at impugning the reputation of this department, one of the best in the country."
Gore said last year he was at first surprised by the civil verdict against Adam and found the theory presented by Greer "not logical."
In a live TV interview with KSWB a day after the verdict, Gore said:
"There’s just no physical evidence or eyewitness evidence to tie Adam Shacknai to this murder. There’s no DNA, there’s no fingerprints," he said. "It’s interesting the attorney Mr. Greer managed to turn that into a theory that the crime scene had been wiped clean which is really difficult to do in this scientific age we live in."
Greer said that was "the most significant part" of the case.
"If you look at things associated with the crime, not even Rebecca's DNA or prints are on them," he said.
Greer said he cooperated with the sheriff's department's review by sending the department numerous documents, including transcripts and other material from the 28-day civil trial.
Jurors in the wrongful death lawsuit voted 9-3 that Shacknai battered Zahau and that his actions caused her death. They determined Shacknai owed Zahau's mother, Pari Zahau, nearly $5.2 million in damages.
Adam, in a statement through his attorney last year, maintained his innocence.
"I was in no way involved with Rebecca's death, which was part of a tragic sequence of events, that also involved the loss of my 6-year-old nephew Max. I will be pleased to assist the investigation in any way requested, as I have all along."