SAN DIEGO –- 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, has been dismissed with prejudice.
Last April, a jury found Adam Shacknai, the brother of Zahau’s boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, liable in her death and awarded her family $5 million, despite a law enforcement ruling that her death was a suicide. Wednesday’s dismissal vacates the jury’s verdict due to a settlement reached between her family and insurers, for an undisclosed sum.
Shacknai, who wanted to overturn the verdict on appeal, was taken completely by surprise by the settlement and visibly angered by the maneuver.
“I guess my insurance company did an end around this whole process,” he told reporters after the dismissal. “They believed in my innocence but they were tired of throwing money at it. They settled for a pittance. Extortion is alive and well.”
The dismissal of the civil wrongful death lawsuit with prejudice means that Shacknai is not legally liable for Zahau’s death and will not have to pay the family.
“There is no legal judgement, which is how it should be, saying that Mr. Shacknai did anything wrong. It’s as if that never happened,” said Seth Weisburst, Shacknai’s lawyer in the lawsuit. Even so, Shacknai is angry with the outcome, because it deprives him of the opportunity to clear his name in court, Weisburst said.
“Mr. Shacknai is aware that most people are not going to understand the legal particulars,” Weisburst said. “He very much wanted to take any opportunity he can, whether it’s in the courts or outside of the courts, to show that this is completely baseless and outrageous — that he had nothing to do with the death of Rebecca Zahau.”
The terms of the settlement were not made public, but the Zahau family’s lawyer, Keith Greer, confirmed that the settlement vacated the judgement in the civil case and precluded the family from taking further legal action agains Shacknai. “The civil case is done,” Greer said.
Rebecca Zahau, 32, was found dead on July 13, 2011, two days after her boyfriend Jonah Shacknai’s 6-year-old son, Max, fell from a second-story landing at the Spreckels mansion. The boy died five days later.
The attorney for the Zahau family, 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.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department investigated the death and determined that Zahau committed suicide by hanging herself from the balcony of her bedroom at the mansion. After the civil jury rejected the suicide ruling and found Shacknai liable for Zahau’s death, Sheriff Bill Gore ordered a review of the evidence by a panel of experts who were not involved in the original investigation. The review, which was release in December 2018, confirmed the original conclusion of investigators that Zahau took her own life.