Mansion Death Lawsuit: Jonah Shacknai takes the stand - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Mansion Death Lawsuit: Jonah Shacknai takes the stand

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - Testimony continued Thursday in the civil lawsuit surrounding the mysterious death of Rebecca Zahau as her boyfriend Jonah Shacknai took the stand.

[See below for video of Jonah's testimony.]

Jonah's brother Adam Shacknai is believed to have been the only person home when Zahau was found hanging from a second story balcony at Jonah Shacknai's mansion in Coronado.

Rebecca's death happened July 13, 2011, two days after 6-year-old Max, the son of Jonah Shacknai, took a fatal fall in the same home while Rebecca was babysitting.

Officials ruled Zahau's death a suicide, but her family believes she was killed by Adam Shacknai.

Jonah took the stand around 11 a.m. Thursday.

Earlier this week, Adam Shacknai took the stand.

Questioning of Jonah Shacknai opened with testimony about Jonah's background, he and Adam's childhood and their relationship growing up.

Adam's lawyer Dan Webb asked questions about Jonah's education and career path before turning to the subject of his ex-wives and children.

Jonah testified about meeting and marrying his second wife Dina Shacknai with whom he had his son Max in 2005. Jonah stated that he and Dina broke up in 2008.

Jonah Shacknai takes the stand in wrongful death lawsuit of Rebecca Zahau, part one: 

Next, Webb asked Jonah about meeting Rebecca Zahau and Jonah testified that he met her in October of 2009.

Jonah testified that he met Rebecca at an eye center in Phoenix, Arizona, and said he believed she examined his eyes at their first meeting. Jonah also said he asked her to have dinner during that first conversation.

Webb asked if Jonah remembered the date of their first dinner together and Jonah responded affirmatively saying it was Oct. 19, 2009.

Jonah testified that their first date lasted 3 – 4 hours and talked about the things they discussed during that dinner.

"There was a significant compatibility on many levels," Jonah said of he and Rebecca.

Webb inquired about the progression of the couple's relationship and Jonah testified that they started seeing each other regularly through the end of 2009.

"I think we were undoubtedly a couple at the end of 2009," said Jonah. "Neither one of us were seeing other people."

Jonah testified that when he wasn't with his children he was either with Rebecca or working.

"It's a little bit of an odd story," Jonah said when asked about Rebecca moving in with him.

Jonah testified she moved her things into his home in Phoenix in March of 2010.

He said he had been on a trip with his three children – two from his first marriage, and Max from his marriage to Dina – when Rebecca moved her things in, including family pictures and personal items.

Jonah testified that they hadn't discussed her moving in and that Rebecca bringing her things into the home caused an issue with one of his older children.

Webb asked what their next steps were regarding the move in and Jonah said that after some discussion she moved her things back out.

Jonah then testified that about a month later Rebecca formally moved in and they were able to introduce the idea to his children.

When asked, Jonah talked about the relationship between himself and Rebecca, and said they were "very close."

"I'm confident that we loved one another," Jonah said. "We spent all of our time together that we could."

Webb's questioning then turned to Jonah's home in Coronado, California.

Jonah testified that he had owned the home for about four years as of 2010. He explained that when school got out he would take all three of his children to the home in Coronado for the summer each year.

Webb asked about where the children were when they weren't with Jonah during the summer and Jonah said Max would be with his mother at another home in Coronado and his older children would travel to the East Coast and back with their mother.

Jonah testified that during the summer months of 2010 Rebecca would come to Coronado for long weekends and use vacation time to visit as she still had a job at an eye center.

Webb asked about Rebecca's hobbies and Jonah testified that she was an amateur painter and was working on a "soccer player painting" for Max around the time of her death.

Next, Jonah talked about boating with Rebecca and his children. Jonah testified that they would use a "tow line" to tow his older children behind the boat on an innertube around Coronado harbor.

Webb asked if Jonah was aware that the same tow line was the rope connected with Rebecca's hanging and Jonah said yes.

Jonah testified that the tow rope and the innertube were stored in the garage.

Webb questioned Jonah about teaching Rebecca how to tie down the boat using the rope. Jonah testified that he showed her a simple, well-known way of securing the lines.

Jonah testified that Rebecca secured the boat this way each time they took the boat out.

Questioning moved to which members of Rebecca's family had met over the course of their relationship.

Webb asked about an event with Rebecca's family in which Jonah asked her father if they could begin dating, though they had already been living together. Jonah testified that Rebecca had asked him to do this.

Webb asked about Rebecca going to church to which Jonah responded that she had gone to church a couple of times during their relationship.

Jonah testified that during their first date he and Rebecca discussed religion and her upbringing.

He said that Rebecca had told him she had grown up in a very religious and strict home.

"She was not a fan of organized religion of any kind," Jonah said.

Jonah also said that Rebecca had not discussed her feelings on religion with her parents.

Questioning turned to Rebecca's job at the eye center and Jonah stated that she quit her job about 9 months into their relationship.

Jonah testified that Rebecca did not have a source of income nor savings that he was aware of at this time.

Webb asked about Rebecca's arrangement with her family regarding money. Jonah testified that Rebecca and her sisters had agreed to send money to their parents each month to help support them and their younger siblings.

Jonah stated that Rebecca would typically send an envelope of cash to her family and was concerned that she would not be able to continue that if she left her job.

RELATED: Coronado Mansion Death: Related stories, videos & links

He testified that he told Rebecca he would give her the money to continue sending to her parents if she were to quit her job.

Webb inquired as to how much money Jonah gave her for sending to her family and he stated it was $500.

He also testified that he gave Rebecca access to credit cards to use up until the time of her death and that he put no restrictions on her spending.

Questioning then moved to tape residue that was found on her leg following her death.

Jonah testified that she used compression tape sometimes for running and other physical activities.

Webb then asked Jonah about a man Rebecca had been married to when she and Jonah met named Neil Nalepa.

Jonah testified that it was his understanding that they were separated with he met Rebecca and that they subsequently got a divorce.

Next, Jonah described a conversation between he and Rebecca in December of 2010 in which she talked about Neil shoving her around.

Jonah also testified that Rebecca had been arrested for shop lifting once. He said that she had told him she wanted him to hear it from him. She explained it as an incident in which she had left a store in a hurry and forgotten she had merchandise on her.

Webb next asked about Rebecca's relationship with Jonah's oldest daughter – who was a young teenager in 2010. Jonah described it as "difficult" and talked about confrontations between the two.

Jonah testified that the relationship continued to be difficult during the summer of 2011 when the couple and children travelled to Coronado.

He described going to a counselor for advice on how to make the household run more smoothly.

Jonah said he thought that summer would be a chance to figure out if they could all get along.

He also stated that during the months before Rebecca's death, she and his daughter continued to have difficulties and the relationship showed no signs of improvement.

Webb's questioning turned to Jonah's son Max who was between the ages of 4 and 5 during the first years of Jonah and Rebecca's relationship.

Jonah said they had an "extremely close" relationship and that he had no doubt that Rebecca and Max loved each other.

Webb asked if the relationship between Rebecca and Max had an effect on Jonah's ex-wife, Max's mother Dina. Jonah testified that it did and said that Dina resented Rebecca for a variety of reasons.

He said that as Rebecca and Max grew closer that heightened the effect on Dina.

"She was pretty rough on Rebecca, there was no question about it," said Jonah.

Next, Jonah again talked about his plans for the summer of 2011 to try to work on the dynamics between his daughter and Rebecca.

Webb next directed Jonah's attention to the events beginning on July 11.

Jonah testified that on the morning of July 11 he took his two older children to the airport because they were flying to see their mom. He said that Max came along to see them off.

Next, Jonah said he and Max returned to his Coronado home where Rebecca and her younger sister Xena were. He said that Xena was there for a visit for her birthday.

Jonah testified that they had planned to go to the zoo later that day.

Webb asked what Jonah did next and he said that he went to the gym a few blocks away for a quick workout.

Jonah testified that he had been at the gym for about 15 minutes when he got a call from Rebecca's phone. He said that he could hear voices and commotion but no one speaking into the phone.

Jonah said he knew something was wrong and ran back to the house where he saw a firetruck, police cars and an ambulance.

Webb asked what Jonah saw when he entered the home and he said he saw Max on the ground near the front door being attended to be paramedics and that Rebecca was nearby.

Jonah testified that paramedics then put Max in an ambulance and Jonah followed behind with an officer in a police car as they went to Coronado Sharp Hospital.

Next, Jonah said Max was taken into an emergency treatment room where doctors worked trying to resuscitate him. He said he was not breathing on his own, but doctors eventually got a pulse.

Jonah Shacknai takes the stand in wrongful death lawsuit of Rebecca Zahau, part two: 

Jonah then said that the hospital staff took Max for CT scan.

He said a team from Rady Children's Hospital was called to Coronado to take over the case. Max was then transported to Rady Children's by ambulance and Jonah rode with them.

Webb inquired if Jonah spoke to Rebecca while at Coronado Sharp Hospital. Jonah testified that she arrived at the hospital and he spoke to her briefly. He asked her to return home as he was trying to reach Max's mother Dina and didn't want Dina to arrive at the hospital, see Rebecca and have an unpleasant incident.

Jonah testified that when they arrived at Rady Children's Hospital, Max was taken to intensive care and he was "kicked out" so they could attend to Max, which Jonah said he understood.

He said a friend of his worked at the hospital and drove Jonah to Coronado to take a shower and change his clothes. Jonah said he returned to the hospital right after.

Webb inquired about Max's condition as of the evening of July 11. Jonah testified that when they were consulted by doctors at Rady Children's they were told he was his condition was very serious but that with brain injuries you don't know what may happen and that they were working to stabilize him.

Jonah testified that doctors said they were going to put Max in a medically induced coma to put his body through as little stress as possible.

Webb asked about when Dina arrived at the hospital and Jonah said they had a hard time reaching her and that she arrived at 5 p.m.

Jonah testified that he and Dina agreed to an arrangement where one of them would be at the hospital while the other would try to rest.

He said that the nurses at Rady Children's arranged for him to stay at a nearby motel which was a few minutes from the hospital as the Ronald McDonald House was full on July 11.

Webb asked if Jonah was at the hospital with Max all day on Tuesday, July 12 and he said he was.

Next, the lawyer inquired if he spoke to Rebecca on the phone on July 12 and if they spoke about Jonah's brother Adam coming to San Diego.

Jonah testified that Rebecca told him she was going to pick Adam up at the airport. He said later in the afternoon Rebecca and Adam arrived at the hospital where Jonah was with his friend Howard Luber who was Max's godfather and had come out from Phoenix to support the family.

He said the four of them left the hospital to drop Luber at the airport and that he, Rebecca and Adam got a quick dinner at The Fish Market before returning to the hospital site.

Webb inquired about the mood of the dinner which Jonah described as "extremely somber with not a lot of talking."

Jonah testified that Rebecca and Adam took him to the Ronald McDonald House where he was then staying. He said Rebecca asked for a private word so they went to Jonah's room and Adam stayed in the lobby.

Webb asked what the interaction was like between the couple and Jonah said they didn't say much but that Rebecca wanted a long hug and hoped Jonah could assure her everything would be OK.

Next, Jonah said that Rebecca and Adam left while he remained at the Ronald McDonald House and Rady Children's Hospital site.

When asked, Jonah said his understanding was that Adam would be staying in this guest house at Jonah's Coronado home as he always did when he visited.

Webb asked if Jonah stayed at the hospital late into the evening on July 12 and he said he did and that Dina was there as well.

Jonah then testified that he and Dina spoke with a Dr. Peterson that night and that he was the co-head of the pediatric intensive care unit at Rady Children's.

The lawyer asked Jonah to describe that conversation and Jonah said that the doctor had been "unusually" and "inappropriately" direct with them. He said the doctor told him that he had been doing his job for 30 years and that Max's injuries were similar to what he would see in a drowning. He said in the best-case scenario, if Max survived, that he would not walk or talk again.

Webb asked if Jonah and Dina were very upset by this news and Jonah described Dina as "hysterical." He said she "sort of yelled" at Dr. Peterson saying he was wrong and it wasn't true.

"It was very hard to hear those words," said Jonah.

Jonah testified that he left the hospital sometime after midnight and went to the Ronald McDonald to get some sleep.

Next, he said he tried calling Rebecca but that she didn't answer. Jonah said he left a message for her while crying telling her what Dr. Peterson had said and asked her to call him.

Webb asked if Rebecca ever returned that call and Jonah answered that she did not.

Jonah testified that he returned to Max's ICU room at hospital around 6 or 7 a.m. on July 13 and that Dina was already there

Webb asked if Jonah received a text shortly after arriving at the hospital and he said he said he got a text from Adam saying to call him.

Jonah said he stepped out of the room and called Adam.

He testified that Adam asked if he were sitting down and that Jonah proceeded to sit.

Jonah said Adam then told him Rebecca had "taken her life." Jonah described himself as being speechless.

Webb asked if a police officer then got on the phone and Jonah said he did.

Jonah testified that he had wanted to return to the home but that the officer had told him the house was contained and he wouldn't be allowed in so to "sit tight."

The lawyer asked if he learned the way Rebecca had died and Jonah said he was unsure if either his brother or the officer had told him.

Webb then asked if Jonah could remember what his state of mind was and what he was thinking after receiving the news.

"I couldn't believe it," said Jonah. "My son was laying, fighting for his life in a hospital and the idea that Rebecca was now gone – it was unfathomable."

Jonah testified that shortly after he called Rebecca's brother-in-law Doug Loehner – the husband of Rebecca's sister Mary Loehner-Zahau. He described speaking to Doug and telling him Rebecca had taken her life. He said he told Doug he didn't have details but asked him to tell Mary and the rest of the family.

When asked, Jonah described the organ donation team at Rady Children's approaching he and Dina that day about donating Max's organs if his condition did not improve.

Webb asked if Dina and Jonah discussed the possibility of donating Max's organs and he said they did discuss it and that ultimately, they did donate Max's organs.

The lawyer opted not to go through the details of Max's last days but asked if life support was turned off on July 16 and Jonah said yes.

Questioning then turned to Jonah's brother Adam and the accusations brought against him in the lawsuit at the center of this civil trial.

Webb asked if Jonah ever saw Adam do anything "violent or aggressive" to another human being.

"Never," said Jonah.

The lawyer than asked if Adam had ever done anything that would lead Jonah to believe he was capable of doing the things he is accused of in the lawsuit. Jonah again said "never" and called the idea, "inconceivable."

With that, Webb said he had no further questions and the lawyer for the Zahau family, Keith Greer his cross examination of Jonah Shacknai.

Greer's first questions were about Rebecca and the type of person she was. Jonah affirmed that she had a "calm outward demeanor" and that she was "caring."

The lawyer asked if Rebecca was close with her mother and Jonah said they spoke often and he sensed that they were close.

When asked if he saw Rebecca do things that were "self-destructive," Jonah said she sometimes wouldn't eat "adequately" but that he wasn't sure if that was something he would consider self-destructive.

Next, Greer asked if Jonah had seen Rebecca tie knots before. He said only when she was tying down a boat.

Greer then referred to a witness deposition and read questions and answers related to knot-tying in which Jonah had previously said he hadn't seen Rebecca tie anything other than her shoelaces.

The lawyer then put up several photos and asked Jonah if he had ever seen Rebecca tie knots like the ones in the pictures. Jonah said no to each of them.

Greer then brought up out a red rope and a dock cleat and asked Jonah to demonstrate the way he had taught Rebecca to tie up a boat, which Jonah then did.

"It didn't look like there was any knot at the end of that, correct?" asked Greer.

"I think that's how everyone in the world ties down a boat," said Jonah.

Greer asked about the athletic or kinesiology tape (KT) Jonah had said Rebecca used. Jonah testified that he believed the product is cut into strips and applied to muscles. Jonah testified that she would put it on her foot and calf area but that he never watched her apply it.

Jonah testified that Rebecca used another type of tape at times to cover spots on her legs she was worried would get darker with sun exposure.

Next, Greer gave a package of KT tape to Jonah and referred to a diagram on the back depicting that ways people use the tape for injuries. He asked Jonah to use a pen to mark the ways he recalled Rebecca using the tape.

Questioning turned to the summer of 2011 and Greer asked Jonah if he thought he and Rebecca had planned to "assess" their relationship at the end of the summer. Jonah said yes.

Greer asked if Rebecca told Jonah she gave Max CPR the day of his fall.

"She said that she gave him a few breaths," said Jonah.

Greer then asked if Jonah had thanked Rebecca for being there and for saving Max's life.

"Well, the life wasn't saved," said Jonah. "But I thanked her for being there and doing all that she could."

Next, Greer referred to the video deposition of Nina Shacknai – Jonah's ex-wife and Max's mother. He asked if Jonah had seen it and he said he had not.

Greer asked if on July 12 Jonah had confronted and instructed Dina that she should thank Rebecca for being there and for saving Max's life.

"Not like that," said Jonah.

Jonah described Dina's agitation that Rebecca had been the only one home at the time of Max's accident and that no one knew exactly what had happened. Jonah said he hoped to ease an unpleasant situation by asking Dina to thank Rebecca.

Next, Greer asked about the voicemail Jonah left for Rebecca in the early morning hours of July 13. He asked if Jonah had phrased the message in a way to avoid causing Rebecca "undue stress."

"No," said Jonah.

"You didn't say that Max was going to die, correct?" asked Greer.

Jonah testified that on the message he said what had been told to him and Dina by Dr. Peterson.

Greer asked if there was still hope that day that Max would survive, and Jonah said that even in grave situations, "you always hold out hope."

The lawyer then asked if Jonah had referred to "Asian honor" when telling Dina that Rebecca was dead and he said he did not.

Questioning then turned to Adam's hobbies and if Jonah had said that Adam was a "trained" writer and what types of things Adam writes.

"Do you recall testifying that he makes up stories?" asked Greer.

"Yes, among other things, he is capable of writing fiction, yes," said Jonah.

"Would you agree with the statement, in your relationship with Adam, 'you've got his back'?" asked Greer.

"He's my little brother," said Jonah. "I think we are a strong family. Yes."

Jonah was excused from the witness stand around 3 p.m.


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