A man found liable for the death of his brother’s girlfriend, who authorities said committed suicide by hanging herself at a Coronado mansion in 2011, said Thursday the plaintiffs got “lucky” and is hopeful the case will be reversed on appeal.
Adam Shacknai, now 54, spoke to reporters one day after a jury decided he was responsible for Rebecca Zahau’s death. Jurors also awarded Zahau’s mother more than $5 million in damages for loss of financial support and companionship.
Zahau’s attorney, Keith Greer, told a judge Thursday that the plaintiffs would not be seeking punitive damages against Shacknai.
“I’m standing tall,” Shacknai said outside the Hall of Justice. “I’m not worried about these posers. They got away with something once. They got lucky. They say it’s better to be lucky than good. They got lucky one time. I don’t think they’re going to get lucky again.”
Shacknai said he was proud of the case his defense team put on.
“A lot worse things have happened to a lot better people, so this is nothing to me,” Shacknai said. “I’m disappointed, but I’ve got plenty of fight in me. I got plenty of health.”
Shacknai’s attorney, Dan Webb, said he was “completely astounded” that a verdict could be rendered when there was not a “single speck” of evidence against his client.
Zahau, 32, was found dead 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.
Zahau’s mother, Pari Zahau, and older sister, Mary Zahau-Loehner, rejected the suicide finding and filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2013 against Adam Shacknai, claiming the defendant confronted and battered Zahau the day after his nephew fell.
Greer told the jury that Adam Shacknai delivered four blows to the head of Zahau, rendering her partially or fully unconscious. Greer also claimed the defendant sexually assaulted Zahau, tied her hands and feet, put a noose around her neck and threw her body off a second-story balcony.
Greer alleged that a phrase scrawled on a bedroom door with black paint, which read “She saved him, can he save her,” was written by the defendant.
After less than a day of deliberations, jurors found that he touched and battered Zahau before her death with the intent to harm her.
On Wednesday, Greer called on the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to re-open its investigation into Zahau’s death.
“We know that Rebecca did not commit suicide,” Greer said outside court. “We knew right away.”
Greer said the civil trial was a way to get the truth in front of the public.
“It’s not about money,” he said. “It’s never been about the money.”
Zahau-Loehner told reporters she was in “shock” upon hearing the verdict.
“For seven years, we had to fight to prove she didn’t commit suicide,” Zahau-Loehner said Wednesday. “My sister was brutally murdered.”
Zahau-Loehner said she is holding out hope that someday Adam Shacknai will be criminally charged in the case.
The defendant testified that he had nothing to do with Zahau’s death. He said he was staying in the guest house at his brother’s mansion the night of July 12, 2011, after traveling to San Diego from his home in Memphis to be with his brother after Max’s accident.
Adam Shacknai said he emerged from his room early the next morning and saw Zahau’s nude body hanging from the balcony. He said he called 911, cut Zahau down and tried to give her CPR, then called his brother to tell him his girlfriend was dead.
Jonah Shacknai — a pharmaceuticals tycoon from Arizona — testified during the six-week trial that it was “inconceivable” that his younger brother had anything to do with Zahau’s death.
—City News Service
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