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Civil jury says man responsible for woman’s 2011 death at California mansion

SAN DIEGO -- A woman found hanging at a San Diego mansion in what was deemed a suicide died at the hands of her boyfriend's brother, a civil jury in California determined Wednesday.

Jurors in the wrongful-death trial determined that Adam Shacknai must pay Rebecca Zahau's family $5 million for the loss of her love and companionship, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. He was also ordered to pay an additional $167,000 for the loss of financial support she would have provided her mother and siblings.

Jurors haven't yet determined whether to order punitive damages.

Shacknai, 54, dropped his head as the verdicts were read, the newspaper said. He is the brother of pharmaceutical executive Jonah Shacknai, whom Zahau was dating when she died at the home in Coronado.

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In this Feb. 28, 2018 file photo Adam Shacknai sits in court during the civil trial, in San Diego for the wrongful death of Rebecca Zahau. Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP

A coroner said the 2011 death was a suicide, and Zahau's family sued to challenge that decision.

San Diego County sheriff's officials said Wednesday they stand by the original investigation but are willing to review any new evidence that came out of the civil trial.

C. Keith Greer, the lawyer representing the Zahau family, argued that Shacknai struck Zahau on the head, sexually assaulted and strangled her and then staged the hanging to look like she took her own life.

"Why did Adam Shacknai brutally murder Rebecca Zahau?" Greer asked rhetorically in court Monday. "It's one of the oldest reasons in the world -- sex."

Zahau, 32, was the only adult known to have been present two days before her death when Jonah Shacknai's 6-year-old son, Max, suffered brain injuries in a fall from a staircase. Max died several days later. His death was ruled accidental.

Adam Shacknai, from Memphis, Tennessee, had come to California after his nephew was injured and was staying in the mansion's guest house.

"We know that Rebecca did not commit suicide," said Greer court, reports CBS affiliate KFMB. "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."

Rebecca's older sister, Mary 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. "My sister was brutally murdered."

Zahau-Loehner said she is holding out hope that someday Adam Shacknai, who's now 54, will be criminally charged in the case.

The defendant reportedly 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.

According to KFMB, 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.

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