Review confirms suicide ruling in Zahau hanging case, sheriff says

 

SAN DIEGO — A “thorough review” supports investigators’ initial conclusion that the 2011 hanging death of Rebecca Zahau in Coronado was a suicide, not a murder, Sheriff Bill Gore announced Friday.

Gore led a panel of evidence experts, homicide and medical examiner investigators who discussed their findings at an afternoon briefing.

“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,” Gore said. “In addition we found no evidence that would dispute or be inconsistent with the Medical Examiner’s finding that Rebecca Zahau’s manner of death was suicide.”

The sheriff assembled a team of one Coronado police sergeant and three sergeants from the Sheriff’s homicide unit

“It should be noted that no one on the review team was part of the original investigation, and they had no prior connections to the case. The group was assigned to conduct a thorough, objective review of the investigation with fresh eyes,” Gore said

A video of the news conference and photos of materials displayed will be posted online after the briefing, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The Sheriff’s Department and Medical Examiner’s Office concluded after an investigation that Zahau’s death was a suicide.

The finding outraged her mother and sister, who claimed she would have never killed herself and that the manner of her death — Zahau was nude, with her hands bound behind her back, her ankles bound and a T-shirt gag in her mouth — appeared more likely a homicide.

The family’s attorney, C. Keith Greer, called on the Sheriff’s Department to re-open its investigation after winning a wrongful death lawsuit in April against the brother of Zahau’s boyfriend.

Zahau died on July 13, 2011, at the Coronado mansion of her millionaire boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, an Arizona pharmaceutical company executive.

Her family filed a civil wrongful death suit against the person who reported her hanging from a balcony — Shacknai’s brother, Adam Shacknai, a Tennessee tugboat captain.

Adam Shacknai testified in his trial that he flew into San Diego the day before because his nephew, Jonah Shacknai’s 6-year-old son, had been seriously injured in a fall at the mansion and was hospitalized. The boy died days later.

The defendant testified that he slept in a guest house and the next morning saw Zahau’s body hanging from the balcony of a guest bedroom in the main house. He called 911 and cut her down.

Jurors voted 9 to 3 for finding that Shacknai battered Zahau before her death with intent to harm her, and also found him liable for her wrongful death. In civil lawsuits, nine votes are sufficient for a verdict, unlike in criminal trials where a verdict must be unanimous.

The jury also voted to award $5 million to Zahau’s mother, Pari Zahau, and sister Mary Zahau-Loehner.

Greer said Friday that he gave the Sheriff’s Department trial materials, including testimony transcripts and evidence, to aid the official review of the case.