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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Rother

Rebecca Zahau Case Update

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

Catching up on the highlights, new details, and the book I'm working on. Make sure to read to the bottom:

When I went to Adam Shacknai's motions hearing on Jan. 25, Judge Katherine Bacal was going to rule on Adam Shacknai's requests for 1) a new trial and/or 2) for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

In layman's terms, that means Adam wanted a new trial to overturn the verdict holding him responsible for Rebecca's death, or to overturn the judgment on which the verdict was based.

Judge Bacal issued a tentative ruling that day, denying both motions, with some interesting comments about flaws in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's investigation, challenging its "suicide" findings as the cause of death.

She said, for example, "the court feels remiss if it does not state that the sheriff's investigation leaves almost as many questions unanswered as it answered," and "it is not unreasonable to still ask, who killed Rebecca Zahau?"

In court, she apologized for not releasing her ruling in advance, as usual, and offered the attorneys a chance to come back another day to present oral arguments. Zahau family attorney Keith Greer said that in the approximately 20 motions so far in this case, the judge had yet to reverse one of her tentative rulings, which was good news for me, because the day they chose to do oral arguments--Feb. 6--I was going to be in San Francisco to sing in a nightclub!

That said, I stayed on top of the news that morning on my cell phone, and then dove in deeper, because I was asked to go on Andrea Kaye's talk radio show that night to give an update on the case.

As soon as I saw the first couple of stories -- saying that the Zahau family had settled with Adam's insurance company, which resulted in the judgment being vacated and the case dismissed -- I immediately called Greer and another reporter who attended the hearing to find out what was going on. (Adam's attorneys have never been open to answering questions unless they decide to give a news conference, and since I was out of town, there was no way for me to attend.)

The problem was that most of the news stories said that the verdict was "erased" and yet Greer and NBC (Yay, JW August!) both said the verdict was left standing, just like the judge's tentative ruling and her comments.

I was told that after the judge announced the settlement that Adam proceeded to give a 20-minute statement to TV cameras at the courthouse, in which he expressed his fury, peppered with expletives, about his insurance company settling against his wishes.

So, I wondered, if the verdict was erased and thrown out, why was he so upset? Because it WASN'T, which I learned by calling up two civil attorneys who were not involved in the lawsuit, and had them explain the process and all the terminology.

That's good journalism. When you have two attorneys giving opposite statements, you don't take one's word and ignore the other, you consult outside, objective sources (also the court clerk said the verdict remained "on file," if anyone had called and asked).

So the deal is this: Verdict stands, $5 million judgment vacated (undisclosed settlement), case dismissed, no appeal. Period. I'm not sure why, but the UT and several other TV and wire news outlets, who all reprinted the same text, almost verbatim, seem to have taken the word of Adam's attorney at face value, saying that the verdict had been thrown out.

It's possible that they misunderstood him, I guess, I don't know, because I wasn't there, but it sure created a LOT of confusion.

What happened, essentially, is that the Zahau family settled for an undisclosed sum (later revealed to be $600,000), which vacated the $5 million judgment, and rendered moot Adam's two motions, which Judge Bacal had already tentatively denied.

Given the tentative ruling, the insurance company apparently decided a week before the Feb. 6 hearing that Adam was not likely to win over this judge, nor to win an appeal in front of her, so they offered a settlement and cut their losses to stop spending any more money on fighting an appeal, which would have been the next step.

Adam said he fought this, because he wanted his chance in court to prove his innocence and to clear his name, and if he lost the motions, he could still file an appeal on the judgment and the verdict. Because of the settlement, however, he is not able to do any of those things now.

When asked if he killed Rebecca Zahau that day, he made certain remarks that have not really helped him in the theater of public opinion.

Like this: "Hell, f***ing no. I wouldn't f***ing waste my time killing Rebecca Zahau."

He also called Greer a "scumbag," and a "sleazeball," and said that the whole case against him was a "hoax," built by Greer using theories posted on the Internet by various trolls.

Greer, who has alleged corruption and collusion between the Shacknai family and the sheriff's department (which Sheriff Gore denies), said the family is not giving up. Given the jury verdict, the judge's critical comments of the sheriff's investigation, and now the new financial resources, they plan to petition the Medical Examiner's Office to change the cause of death from "suicide" to "homicide" as a way to try to re-open the criminal case, as they continue to investigate and gather evidence that will help meet the higher criminal standard of proof.

If that petition is rejected, they plan to file a writ in court to force the matter before a judge. (I think it will be a different judge than Bacal, because the case has been dismissed with prejudice.) Greer also just told me that he is working with a civil rights attorney who will file a lawsuit for the Zahau family against the San Diego County Sheriff's Department. Their stated goal is to get the criminal case re-opened.

A few weeks after I posted the above comments on Facebook, I got a surprise call from Adam Shacknai on my cell phone. (I'd given my card to his girlfriend Mary, who then encouraged him to call me. It only took him a year.) Although he skittishly cancelled our first scheduled meeting, we rescheduled and met face-to-face for 3.5 hours. I'm not going to reveal what he told me now -- you'll have to wait for the book.

Just know that I will continue to follow all of this closely as I also continue to investigate leads independently for my book project. And by the way, I am not taking sides in this case, and I do not voice my opinion on whether I believe Adam killed Rebecca.

Let's just say this case isn't over yet. By far.

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