Rebecca Zahau was murdered, lawyer claims as wrongful-death lawsuit opens

SAN DIEGO -- A woman who authorities said committed suicide by hanging herself at her millionaire boyfriend's Coronado mansion in 2011 was actually attacked and killed by her boyfriend's younger brother, a plaintiff's attorney alleged Wednesday.

A judge heard opening statements Wednesday in a civil wrongful-death lawsuit surrounding the high-profile case of Rebecca Zahau, the woman found naked and hanging from the second-story balcony of the historic Spreckles Mansion.

Zahau's death was ruled a suicide, but the wrongful-death suit that opened today blames her boyfriend's brother for her death.

That man, Adam Shacknai, appeared in court for the first time today. His accusers have alleged that the Memphis tugboat captain physically and sexually assaulted Zahau before staging an elaborate suicide scene in the mansion to mask the crime.

But the Shacknai family and their attorneys have called the lawsuit "frivolous," claiming there is no credible evidence linking him to the death.

Two days before Zahau died, her boyfriend’s 6-year-old son fell over a stairway railing while under her care. Authorities speculated Zahau killed herself because she was distraught over his declining condition. He died in a hospital three days later.

Because it is a civil case, Shacknai cannot receive time in prison, regardless of the proceedings' outcome. The trial is expected to continue for at least a month.