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San Diego County Sheriff's Department to undertake 'fresh review' of Zahau case

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Posted at 5:16 PM, Apr 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-17 11:56:55-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said Monday that it will undertake a “fresh review” of the Rebecca Zahau case following a civil trial.

The department said that, though no new evidence was presented at the trial, “new analysis of existing evidence was presented.”

The department added that the review will be done by investigators who have had no prior involvement in the case.

RELATED: Jury finds Adam Shacknai responsible in Rebecca Zahau wrongful death case

It’s unclear how long the review will take, but the department said it is expected to take at least 90 days.

Read the department’s full statement below:

“The Sheriff's Department has continually indicated its willingness to reevaluate the Rebecca Zahau case if new evidence was presented. After a productive conversation with the family's attorney, Keith Greer, Sheriff Bill Gore determined that, while no new evidence was presented, new analysis of existing evidence was presented in the recently concluded civil trial. In the spirit of transparency and open-mindedness, we have agreed to undertake a fresh review of the case, by investigators who have had no prior involvement with the case, to evaluate the new information. Without having the materials and reports from the civil attorney in front of us at this time, it is difficult to say how long this review will take; however, we expect it will take at least 90 days. When our investigation is complete, we will meet with the family's attorney to discuss our findings. Ultimately, the cause and manner of death, in any case, is determined by the Medical Examiner. In San Diego County, the Medical Examiner's Office is an independent entity and separate from the Sheriff's Department.”

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In early April, a jury found Adam Shacknai, the brother of Zahau’s boyfriend, responsible for her death at the Spreckels Mansion in 2011. A judge awarded Zahau's family $5 million in damages.

Jurors were asked two questions: Did Adam Shacknai touch Rebecca Zahau (before she died) with the intent to harm her and did that touching cause her death? Jurors said yes in both instances.

Zahau's nude body was found hanging from the balcony of the Coronado mansion. She was discovered gagged with her hands and feet tied.

The 32-year-old's death was ruled a suicide.

At the time, investigators said Zahau took her own life days after Max Shacknai, the 6-year-old son of her boyfriend Jonah Shacknai, was seriously injured while in her care.

The 6-year-old died several days later.

Adam Shacknai released the below statement following the announcement:

"I welcome a fresh review by the San Diego Sheriff’s Office. As I have maintained from the beginning, I was in no way involved with Rebecca’s death, which was part of a tragic sequence of events, that also involved the loss of my six year old nephew Max. I will be pleased to assist the investigation in any way requested, as I have all along."

Zahau’s family said they were “cautiously optimistic” after they learned of the sheriff’s department decision on the case.

"The family is happy. They're a bit cautiously optimistic. They are still a bit concerned that it took seven years to get to this point," said attorney Keith Greer.

Greer said the family has two goals.

"One, to hold the person who murdered their daughter, sister, accountable; and two, to have the stigma of suicide taken away from her," said Greer.

"There was no suicide note here, and if it was a suicide, it was one of the most bizarre suicides ever, but what I think really cinched the case for us, the saying ‘she saved him, can you save her?’ painted on the door in that ‘Helter Skelter’ Charlie Manson format," Greer said, referring to message scribbled in paint on a bedroom door.

Greer said handwriting experts testified the writing was similar to that of Adam Shacknai.

Greer also points out that Adam Shacknai was the only person without an alibi who knew Zahau had initially saved Max.

"The ‘she saved him, can you save her?’ That, to me, narrowed down the scope of who could have done this because it had to be someone who knew she gave Max CPR that morning," said Greer.

Greer said the most compelling piece of evidence was a knife found with traces of blood. He says the blood wasn't detected until just a few months ago. Greer believes Adam Shacknai sexually assaulted Zahau with the knife, strangled her, and staged the hanging.

"Is it the carving knife with her hands on the blade not on the handle, is it the steak knife that she was sexually violated with is it the door knobs in and out of the room that have zero DNA, zero fingerprints , is it the paint brushes that have no DNA?", said Greer.

Greer believes the lack of DNA shows that Shacknai wiped everything clean, but Shacknai's attorneys say there is no evidence indicating that their client had anything to do with Zahau's death.

Greer said he's confident in the new investigation.

"This is being looked at by everybody and we have great faith that public scrutiny will make sure that this is handled appropriately, this can't be hidden anymore," said Greer.