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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Pathologist: Hanging would have broken Zahau’s neck

The results of a second autopsy on Rebecca Zahau were released Tuesday on the Dr. Phil Show.

CORONADO, Calif. (CBS 8) - The results of a second autopsy on Rebecca Zahau were released Tuesday on the Dr. Phil Show, four months after she was reportedly found hanging off a balcony at Coronado's Spreckels mansion.

San Diego County Sheriff Department investigators ruled Zahau's death a suicide by hanging but her family believes it was murder.

Zahau's body was exhumed from a cemetery in St. Joseph, Missouri and flown to Pittsburgh for the second autopsy, which was performed by respected forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht.

"I feel like my sister hasn't rested yet because I don't have an answer for her, as far as what happened to her," Rebecca's sister Mary Zahau-Loehner told the host, Dr. Phil McGraw.

"When we did exhume her, I felt like they won again. It felt like it started all over again," said Zahau-Loehner.

"It's a case that just cries out for answers and investigation," Zahau family attorney Anne Bremner told Dr. Phil. "We even have mixed DNA in her fingernail clippings."

Dr. Wecht, appeared via satellite on the TV show and reported, "I lean very strongly toward it being a homicide – something involving foul play – and lean very strongly against it being a suicide."

Dr. Wecht said Zahau's neck was not broken and he believes it should have been, given the nine-foot drop off the balcony described in her initial autopsy report.

"I believe that if the body had just plummeted down with that sheer drop of several feet, then the cervical vertebrae would have been fractured or dislocated; separated one from the other, or from the base of the skull," Dr. Wecht concluded.

During his autopsy, Dr. Wecht had a chance to examine four head injuries that did not break the skin but caused bleeding underneath Zahau's scalp.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner has described those head injures as "relatively minor" and said in a September statement that "she may have struck her head on the balcony on the way down."

Dr. Wecht disagreed with that conclusion.

"You have to have blunt force trauma. You have to have the head impacting against some object four times; or be struck by something four times in a round, blunt force nature," said Dr. Wecht.

"I would like to hear from them how you get four separate impacts to the top of the head in a vertical hanging," Wecht continued. "And, the significance of that is that those kinds of impacts might lead to a concussion and could lead to temporary unconsciousness."

In an exclusive interview with News 8, Dr. Phil McGraw said he found the results of the second autopsy compelling.

"He (Dr. Wecht) basically says it probably would have decapitated the body because of the force," Dr. Phil told News 8's Phil Blauer.

"His conclusion is there are huge unanswered questions here and there is no way this should be deemed a suicide," said Dr. Phil, who believes the case should be re-opened.

"I think there are answers that may be available and if they are, this family will have peace of mind," Dr. Phil said. "The explanations don't need to lead to murder but they need to be explanations where they say, 'Okay, I get it. Now I can move on and begin to heal.'"

San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore issued the following written statement at 7:12 p.m. on Tuesday, responding to the Dr. Phil Show series of reports:

After personally reviewing the two-part show by entertainment psychologist Phil
McGraw, Sheriff Bill Gore explained, "No new information has been provided by this second
autopsy." The case remains concluded.

"To date," Sheriff Gore said, "neither our detectives, nor the Medical Examiner's Office
have been presented with any new evidence from this examination. If Dr. Wecht, or Miss
Bremner would like to share information they believe is pertinent with our investigators, we
would be glad to meet with them, rather than hear their results on television, presented as

Sheriff Gore advised those who appeared on the "Dr. Phil" show altered and
misrepresented facts, as well as omitted pertinent details all together.

For example, the guests on the show referred to mixed DNA underneath Rebecca's fingernails. There were 13 samples taken from fingernails of both hands. Each of the samples was analyzed separately. In twelve of the samples, the DNA results were consistent with the presence of DNA from only one person.

The DNA types found in these samples matched the DNA of Rebecca Zahau. In one of the
samples, the results indicated the presence of DNA from at least two people. The majority of the DNA present was consistent with Rebecca's DNA. The amount of information obtained from the other contributor(s) was so minute; it was not possible to identify the source.

It is important to understand that small amounts of DNA can be transferred easily through
any number of ways including something as ethereal as a breath.

Their 'findings' that 'someone' had logged on to Rebecca's computer had already been
investigated by our detectives and it was simply determined to be an automatic computer update.

Further, Dr. Wecht did not reach out to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office
or the Sheriff's Office to attend the autopsy, as is normal protocol to establish and maintain a
clean chain of custody, should new evidence be found.

According to Sheriff Gore, "This is nothing more than sensationalism at its lowest point
and the family is only enduring more suffering from this insensitivity."