A California civil jury on Wednesday ruled that a man is legally responsible for the death of his brother’s girlfriend, who was found hanging naked at a San Diego-area mansion in 2011.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports jurors in the wrongful-death trial determined that Adam Shacknai must pay Rebecca Zahau’s family more than $5million for the loss of her love and companionship.
Jurors haven’t yet determined whether to order punitive damages.
Adam Shacknai (left), pictured in court on Wednesday, was found legally responsible for the death of his brother’s girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau (right), in 2011
Adam Shacknai, 54, hung his head as the verdicts were read in civil court Wednesday
Thumbs up: Zahau family attorney Keith Greer turned around to face Rebecca’s family in the room and gave a thumbs up sign
Zahau was found dead at her boyfriend’s mansion in Coronado, California, on July 13, 2011, two days after his young son suffered a fatal fall at the house
Shacknai hung his head as the verdicts were read. The 54-year-old is the brother of billionaire pharmaceutical mogul Jonah Shacknai, whom Zahau was dating when she died.
A coroner said the death was a suicide, but Zahau’s family suspected foul play and in 2013 filed a wrongful death suit in civil court to challenge that decision.
Adam, a tugboat captain from Tennessee, was never criminally charged in Zahau’s death.
It took the civil jury less than a day of deliberations to return the verdicts.
The jurors were tasked with answering two questions: Did Adam Shacknai touch Rebecca Zahau before her death with the intent to harm her? Did that touching cause the death of Rebecca Zahau?
They voted ‘yes’ in both instances.
Zahau, 32, was the only adult known to have been present two days earlier, on July 11, 2011, in her boyfriend’s historic mansion in the beach resort city of Coronado when Shacknai’s six-year-old son, Max, suffered brain injuries in a fall from a staircase.
Zahau (pictured left with Jonah Shacknai) was the only adult present when six-year-old Max Shacknai (right) suffered brain injuries
The boy plunged to his death off of this staircase and was found on the first floor, next to a shattered chandelier (pictured)
Authorities said Zahau died shortly after receiving a voice mail that said the boy’s condition had worsened and he wasn’t likely to survive.
Max died several days later. His death was ruled accidental.
Zahau was found naked and had rope around her wrists and ankles but San Diego County authorities concluded that she killed herself.
Investigators believe Zahau loosely bound her wrists, took one arm out and put both arms behind her back before tightening the noose. Investigators said footprints on the dusty balcony and DNA on a knife, rope and bedposts helped them reach the conclusion.
Zahau was found hanging naked and bound from this second-floor balcony (left)
The rope that Zahau allegedly used to hang herself is seen hanging over the balcony railing
A knife is seen in the second-floor bedroom after Zahau’s suspected suicide
Officers who responded to the scene found a pair of knives, black paint, brushes, and a cryptic message painted on the door that read: ‘She saved him can you save her.’
Shacknai’s brother had come to California after his nephew was injured and was staying in the mansion’s guest house.
He called 911 after finding Zahau and cutting her down.
However, the lawsuit alleged that Adam sexually assaulted Zahau, killed her and staged the hanging.
In closing arguments, the defense said there was no physical evidence linking Shacknai to the crime scene and none of the 29 witnesses who testified in the case said he was in the house the night Zahau was believed to have died.