California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided that she won't review the San Diego County Sheriff Department's findings that the bizarre death of Rebecca Zahau, the girlfriend of Scottsdale-based Medicis CEO Jonah Shacknai, was a suicide.
Earlier this week, Shacknai wrote Harris a letter asking her to review the case -- not because he didn't agree that the death was a suicide, but to "further enhance the public's confidence in the integrity of the law-enforcement process and finally bring closure to these terrible tragedies."
In Harris' reply to Shacknai's letter -- provided to New Times by the California Department of Justice -- Harris says the AG's Office only reviews cases handled by local law enforcement "under very narrow circumstances."
See the full letter below:
Dear Mr. Shacknai:
Thank you for your September 19 letter to Attorney General Kamala Harris, who sends her condolences for your profound loss. On behalf of both the Attorney General and her staff, we offer our sympathy for the tragedy that is the reason for your correspondence. Your letter requests an inquiry into the investigation that was conducted by the San Diego County Sheriff's Office. The California Department of Justice would review a local investigation under very narrow circumstances. Some of the factors that are considered before committing the state's scarce resources include whether a clear conflict of interest exists, whether a local law enforcement agency has requested assistance, whether local investigative resources have been exhausted, and whether there are allegations of gross malfeasance by the investigative agency. Based on a review of your request, we must decline your invitation to review this investigation at this time.
Please accept our sincerest condolences for your tragic loss, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Dane R. Gillette
For Kamala D. Harris.
Earlier this month, the SDCSD ruled the death was a suicide, despite the bizarre factors of her death -- for example, when she was found, Zahau was naked and had her hands and feet bound behind her back, and there was a cryptic message written on the door to the room where her body was found.
Zahau's body was found by Shacknai's brother just days after the CEO's son, Max, was rushed to a hospital in critical condition after falling down a flight of stairs in the mansion. Zahau was caring for the boy at the time of the fall.
Max Shacknai later died from his injuries.
"Were these deaths the result of criminal conduct? Was Max's death a homicide? The answer is no," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said at a press conference earlier this month. "It was a tragic accident. Was Rebecca's death a homicide? Again the answer is no. It was a suicide ... These deaths were not the result of any criminal acts."
Aside from being found bound behind her back, naked, and hanging from a balcony, Zahau's autopsy revealed several unexplained head injuries a renowned forensic pathologist says don't necessarily support the theory that Zahau hung herself.
"She has subgaleal hemorrhages; those are hemorrhages on the undersurface of the scalp. I see no reason why she should have those. You get those when your head strikes something or is struck by something."
Brain hemorrhaging could have happened when Zahau was cut down from the balcony -- she may have hit her head -- but it wouldn't have happened in four different places in the brain, Wecht concludes.
"Even if (her) scalp hit bushes, that kind of impact would not produce subgaleal hemorrhage," Wecht continues. "We're talking about contusions on the top of the head. So, even as the body is falling down - let's say there are branches - how do you get bruises on the top of the head as the body is falling vertically downward?"
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Another tidbit the San Diego County Sheriff's Department left out during its press conference announcing its findings that Zahau's death was a suicide is a message left in black paint on a door near the room where Zahau was found hanging.
The SDCSD mentioned a message during the press conference, but wouldn't tell reporters what it said.
That message, the autopsy reveals, was the following: "She saved him can you save her?"
The message could possibly be referencing Max Shacknai. However, it seems if Zahau were the person who'd written the message, it would say "can you save me," not "can you save her."