In a surprise and unusual move to explain conflicting information highlighted by various news outlets, including our own Examiner reports, over findings by the San Diego County’s Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) holding the death of Rebecca Zahau to be the result of a suicide, and ending further investigations, the San Diego County Deputy Medical Examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas released a statement on Tuesday, September 6, 2011, just 4 days after he took part in a 90 minute presentation to the media on Friday, September 2, as seen in the attached slide show and video clip.
In that statement, Dr. Lucas addressed four points of evidence discovered during his autopsy of the 32-year-old girlfriend of Jonah Shacknai, the owner of the property known as the Spreckels Mansion, located at 1043 Ocean Boulevard in Coronado, CA, where Ms. Zahau’s naked and bound body was found hanging from an inner balcony on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at about 6:48 a.m. PDT by Mr. Shacknai’s brother Adam, as reported on Tuesday, September 6, 2011 by the Los Angeles Times, LA Late, the New York Daily News, and other information sources.
Those four points included addressing the tape reside on Ms. Zahau mid left shin and right lower leg; bruises on the right side of her scalp; a blue T-shirt used as a gag, and also wrapped around her neck; and blood found on her inner thigh.
None of these points had previously been discussed at last Friday’s news conference.
For each one, Dr. Lucas minimized their importance as having no impact to alter his original suicide determination.
Referring to the tape residue, he said “…their significance is not clear. Their position and size would have been unusual for evidence of leg binding.”
On the scalp bruising, Dr. Lucas asserted, “These were relatively minor. Because there was evidence that she went over the balcony in a non-vertical position, she may have struck her head on the balcony on the way down.”
Addressing the issue of why the T-shirt was placed as a gag in the woman’s mouth, he said, “It is not clear why it was there, although people can place material in their mouth prior to hanging.”
On the blood evidence, Dr. Lucas had these comments, “Blood was found on her inner thighs and the source was either menses or spotting due to an IUD(Intrauterine Device). There was no genital trauma. A small amount of blood was also noted on her big toes which appeared to be due to small scratches from the plants below the balcony.”
He concluded his statement, which was in written form available at this link, and not subject to direct follow up questioning by the press, “As in any comprehensive investigation, some findings cannot be entirely explained. None of the observations listed above are inconsistent with the conclusions reached regarding the cause and manner of death of Rebecca Zahau. Our condolences go out to all of those involved in this tragic case.”
In reaction to these remarks, Seattle based attorney Anne Bremner, whom we interviewed last Friday by telephone, and who represents the Zahau family in their efforts to have the investigation into Rebecca’s death reopened, told Radar Online that evidence suggesting a homicide is overwhelming, saying “There hasn’t been a suicide in known history by a woman with these elements. The gagging and tape put it over the top.”
What is surprising in the additional comments by Dr. Lucas are such equivocations such as “their significance is not clear”, “she may have”, and uncertainty over the source of blood found on her leg, dismissing all of this data by saying that “some findings cannot be entirely explained.”
For those reasons, it is puzzling why Dr. Lucas still saw fit to sign off on the death as a suicide, rather than calling it unexplained, as other forensic pathologists, including Dr. Cyril Wecht, have suggested would be more appropriate.
As judges are likely to admonish jurors before sending them off to decide on a verdict, “In all human endeavors, there are marked distinctions in what is possible, or what may have happened, and what is probable beyond a reasonable doubt. Those distinctions can be decided by an examination of the evidence, an evaluation of the credibility of the witness testimony, and the life experience and common sense of each member of this panel.”
Those who have closely followed this investigation, including many who read these and other dispatches, are troubled by the fact that the conclusion of suicide has seemingly not met the distinction between possible and probable.
Tell us your thoughts. Please leave comments below or by email and subscribe to get future updates. There is also expanded coverage of other recent news articles. You may also be interested in following our reports as the Airlines/Airport Examiner.