SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8/CNS) — A civil case regarding the death of 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau, whose bound and nude body was found hanging from a balcony at a historic Coronado mansion more than seven years ago, was dismissed with prejudice on Wednesday.
A jury previously found Adam Shacknai, the brother of Zahau's boyfriend, liable in her death and awarded her family $5 million, despite a law enforcement
ruling that her death was a suicide.
The dismissal vacates the jury's verdict due to a settlement reached between her family and Adam Shacknai's insurance company, for an undisclosed sum.
Following the proceedings, Adam Shacknai spoke outside the courtroom professing his his innocence and saying he never touched Rebecca. He also made it clear he did not take part in any settlement talks.
"I have never, not only have I never struck a woman or come up from behind her, I have never gotten in her way, I've never blocked a doorway, I've never slammed a door - car door, interior door, exterior door," said Shacknai.
Adam Shacknai also commented on how his brother Jonah Shacknai's friends felt about Rebecca.
"She was taking a lot of flack from the community, from my brother's friends," said Adam. "She was not accepted."
Shacknai spoke for about 20 minutes to reporters and also talked about the Zahau family's attorney Keith Greer, the Zahau family, the judge and the jury during his civil trial.
He called Greer a "cheeseball" and "slimeball."
"I'm probably the only one who cares about my name because I'm the only one who takes this [expletive] seriously," said Shacknai.
When asked what he thought happened to Rebecca, Shacknai said:
"I agree with the sheriff's department, however I was not there. If someone said something else happened to her I would say, 'OK.'"
See more of Adam's comments below.
Greer also spoke outside of court saying that they would "move the attack" over to the San Diego Sheriff's Department and the medical examiner. He said the Zahau family will not give up until the person who killed her is behind bars.
"We will be petitioning the medical examiner to change his opinion that Rebecca Zahau committed suicide to that she was murdered," said Greer. "That will be the next papers that we'll be filing; if the medical examiner does not change his opinion we'll bring the medical examiner into court and have another judge look at it.
See more of Greer's statements below.
Wednesday's court proceedings were the latest regarding the death of 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau, whose body was found on July 13, 2011. Zahau's cause of death has been the subject of ongoing debate, with investigators, attorneys and family members disputing whether she took her own life or was murdered.
Zahau, who was found hanging by her neck above a rear courtyard at her boyfriend's beachfront summer home, was gagged, with her ankles bound and her wrists tied behind her back.
Two days before her body was discovered, her boyfriend's 6-year-old son, Max, was gravely injured in a fall over a second-story stairway banister inside the stately Ocean Boulevard home, known locally as the Spreckels Mansion. The boy died five days after the accident, which occurred while he was under Zahau's care.
Following a seven-week investigation into Zahau's death, the Sheriff's Department and the county Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Zahau had killed herself in an unusual but not implausible or unheard-of manner -- by tying a rope around a bed, wrapping the other end of it around her neck, binding her feet and hands, and throwing herself off a second-floor balcony.
Authorities have suggested that Zahau took her own life out of remorse and sorrow over Max's accident and his resulting grim prognosis.
Her mother and older sister rejected that conclusion out of hand and filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2013 against Shacknai, claiming that he confronted and attacked Zahau the day after Max's fatal fall, sexually assaulting and killing her.
The attorney for the plaintiffs, Keith Greer, alleged that the defendant delivered four blows to Zahau's head, rendering her partially or fully unconscious, molested her, tied her hands and feet, put a noose around her neck and pushed her off the balcony.
Greer told the civil jury a cryptic phrase found scrawled on a bedroom door at the mansion in black paint -- "She saved him, can he save her" -- had been put there by Adam Shacknai.
The defendant, who had traveled to San Diego from his home in Memphis to be with his brother after Max's accident, insisted that he had nothing to do with Zahau's death. At trial, he described emerging early in the morning from the guest house where he was staying on the grounds of his brother's estate and finding Zahau's body hanging from the second-floor landing.
He told the civil jury he called 911, cut Zahau down and tried to give her CPR, then called his brother to break the news that Zahau was dead.
Zahau's boyfriend, pharmaceuticals tycoon Jonah Shacknai, testified during the six-week trial that it was "inconceivable" that his younger brother had been involved in Zahau's death in any way.
Nonetheless, after less than a day of deliberations, the jurors found that the 54-year old defendant violated and battered Zahau, leading to her death.
Two weeks after that decision, the sheriff's department reopened its investigation in the case "in the spirit of transparency and open- mindedness," assigning the task to in-house homicide investigators and members of the Coronado Police Department.
Investigators concluded that the evidence failed to support the jury's verdict, stating that wounds found on Zahau's forehead were more superficial than the type of serious, debilitating trauma described by the Zahau family's lawyer, nor was there any indication of a sexual assault.
"After conducting this review, the case team found no evidence that would lead us to believe that Rebecca Zahau died at the hands of another (person)," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore told reporters in December. "In addition, we found no evidence that would dispute or be inconsistent with the ... finding that (her) manner of death was suicide."