The mother of a woman found dead of an apparent suicide in San Diego seven years ago testified at her wrongful death trial this week, insisting that her religious daughter never would have taken her own life.
Rebecca Zahau, 32, was found hanging from a second-story balcony in her boyfriend Jonah Shacknai’s Coronado mansion in July 2011, two days after Jonah’s son Max suffered a fatal accident in the home while he was in Rebecca’s care. Max Shacknai, six, was hospitalized at the time of Zahau’s death, and died a short time later.
Jonah’s brother Adam Shacknai was staying in the guest house at the time of Rebecca’s death. Although authorities determined that the woman died of suicide, her family has insisted through the years that Rebecca would not have taken her own life, and have accused Adam Shacknai of causing her death.
On Thursday, the San Diego Tribune reports, forensics expert Lisa DeMeo testified about DNA and fingerprint evidence found at the scene. DeMeo reportedly worked in the sheriff’s crime lab for several years before going into private practice.
DeMeo testified that a steak knife found in the second-floor guest bedroom — where one of the rope Zahau was found hanging from was tied — had Rebecca’s blood on the handle. But there was no blood on her hands, and she did not have any cuts or scrapes. It would had to have been menstrual blood, DeMeo said in court.
A second knife, a chef’s knife, was found in the guest bedroom — and Rebecca’s fingerprints were found on the blade. DeMeo said it could not be determined when Rebecca had touched the knife.
“There is no way to age a fingerprint,” DeMeo said.
According to the San Diego Tribune report, Zahau’s family believed that Adam Shacknai sexually assaulted Rebecca with a knife after she got out of the shower. Thursday’s testimony did not address the role Shacknai might have had in the death, but DeMeo did say on the stand that she disagreed with the suicide determination.
Rebecca’s mother Pari Zahau testified that her daughter would not have committed suicide. She also said that Rebecca and her sister financially supported their parents and two younger siblings. Shortly before she died, Rebecca had reportedly put some money in an envelope to send to her parents — who moved to the U.S. in 2010 — but did not mail it before she died.
“She was happy,” Pari Zahau, a native of Burma who does not speak English fluently, said of her daughter.
“At the end, we always talk about God’s love. … Very sweet daughter. When she died, we are so empty and crazy.”
Rebecca’s mother insisted that her daughter’s deep religious faith means she would not have taken her own life.
The wrongful death trial will break on Friday and resume on Monday.
[Feature image: Rebecca Zahau/Handout]