Drug company CEO denied state review of girlfriend's death

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 22, 2011 10:13 PM
Drug company CEO denied state review of girlfriend's death

SACRAMENTO, Calif (Reuters) - California's attorney general has declined a request by pharmaceutical mogul Jonah Shacknai for a review of the police investigation that ruled the bizarre hanging death of his girlfriend a suicide.

Shacknai, founder and CEO of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp, has said he sought a reexamination of the case to quell strong doubts raised by relatives of Rebecca Zahau that she took her own life at his mansion near San Diego in July.

In a letter to state Attorney General Kamala Harris, Shacknai wrote that he had no reason to question the findings of investigators who ruled out foul play in both Zahau's death and the fatal fall of his 6-year-old son Max two days earlier.

The boy had been alone with Zahau at the mansion at the time of his spill down a staircase, which police determined was an accident. He died six days later.

Investigators said Shacknai, whose Arizona-based company makes the popular wrinkle filler Restylane and the acne treatment Solodyn, was never considered a suspect.

Police and medical examiners concluded that Zahau, 32, had committed suicide on July 11 hours after learning in a late-night telephone call that Max, then still hospitalized, had taken a turn for the worse.

They even released an unusual video reenactment of how investigators believe she had managed to tie her own hands behind her back before binding her own legs, slipping a noose around her neck and hurling herself off a second-story balcony.

Her lifeless, nude body was found suspended by the neck from a rope later that morning by Shacknai's brother, a guest at the estate at the time.

Some members of Zahau's family disputed the suicide ruling from the start, and one sister has said publicly she believes her sibling was murdered.

In his September 19 letter to Harris, Shacknai said he was "tormented with these unfounded rumors and accusations."

He said a review of the case would serve the interests of justice by providing confidence, comfort and resolution not just to the families impacted by the deaths, but also to the public.

But Chief Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette wrote back two days later, in a letter released by Shacknai's public relations consultants, that said circumstances of the case did not warrant review by the state Department of Justice.

Earlier this month, a number of Zahau's relatives and her former husband, Neil Nalepa, set up a website seeking donations to pay for a private investigation of the case.

A Seattle-based lawyer retained by the family has told Reuters she had retained forensic and psychiatric experts to reexamine the official findings.

She has cited bits of previously undisclosed evidence contained in the medical examiner's report that police did not reveal, including that fact that Zahau's body was found with a T-shirt stuffed in her mouth.

(Additional reporting by Greg Lucas; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)