Rebecca Zahau’s boyfriend at the time of her death took the stand Thursday to testify on behalf of his brother, the man Zahau’s family believes murdered her in 2011.
Jonah Shacknai was an executive at a pharmaceutical company and owned the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado when his girlfriend, Rebecca Zahau was found dead on July 13, 2011.
He was called to the stand Thursday in a wrongful death civil trial that alleges his brother, Adam Shacknai, was responsible in Zahau's death.
Jonah Shacknai told the courtroom Thursday how he met Zahau in Phoenix, Arizona. They became close and, in the summer months, would visit the Coronado mansion.
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He told the courtroom that he was "confident" the two loved each other, but admitted that Zahau and his oldest daughter had a somewhat turbulent relationship.
"A lot of times when my daughter probably said things she shouldn't have, Rebecca probably declared herself a little too forcefully on other occasions to my daughter. It was tough to manage, very tough," Jonah Shacknai said.
Jonah Shacknai had hoped an extended summer stay in Coronado -- away from the stresses of school and other things in Phoenix -- would help smooth things over with the family.
Weeks later, Jonah Shacknai’s six-year-old son fell down the home’s stairs and suffered fatal injuries.
Zahau’s body was found naked and bound at the mansion on Ocean Boulevard two days after.
Adam Shacknai, Jonah's brother, was the first person to discover the body and removed her from the balcony before calling 911 to report a suicide.
Her death was ruled a suicide, but Zahau's family has always maintained she did not kill herself and that she would never take her own life due to strong roots in faith.
The family is suing Adam Shacknai for $10 million.
Jonah Shacknai challenged the family's testimony, stating that Zahau told him that she had disdain for organized religion and that she felt restricted by it as a child and young adult.
He also said that the two of them enjoyed boating together, which the defense credited for her apparent knowledge of tying nautical knots -- like the ones tied in the rope that suspended her hanged body when she was found by Adam Shacknai.
Adam Shacknai's side of the story was heard in a San Diego courtroom Monday. It was the first time he's spoken on that fateful day since being accused of murder by the Zahau family.
His testimony started with a description of how he found Zahau's body on July 13, 2011 -- naked, bound and hanged from a balcony at the Spreckels mansion in Jonah Shacknai's Coronado home.
Shacknai said he cut Zahau's body down immediately after calling 911. A recording of the emergency call was played in court.
A cryptic message painted on the door above the location where the victim's body was discovered has been one of the focal points of the trial.
A handwriting expert examined the message, looking at individual letters and comparing them to both Zahau and Adam Shacknai's handwriting. The expert testified that based on his analysis, he believes with a degree of certainty that the writing on the wall was more than likely painted by Adam Shacknai.
But Adam Shacknai's attorney David Elsberg maintained it was a suicide message painted by Zahau herself. He strongly challenged the expert's opinion and criticized his technique.
Also testifying Monday was forensic Specialist Lisa Dimeo, a former San Diego County Sheriff's Department deputy and Crime Lab Analyst. In her testimony, she described inadequacies she noticed within the crime lab while she worked there in the '90s.
Dimeo said she doesn't believe any of the evidence was mishandled in this case, but she disagrees with the Sheriff Department's conclusion that Zahau's death was a suicide.
A large chef's knife found in the guest bedroom of Spreckels Mansion has Zahau's fingerprints on both sides of the blade but none on the wooden handle.