♪ ♪ this is "nightline." >> tonight, bizarre death. a young woman found naked, tied up 57bd hanging from a balcony from her boyfriend's mansion. ruled a suicide but was it. >> my sister was brutally murdered. >> we follow the clues. >> no woman would bind their hands, gag their mouth and jump over a balcony. >> the one man on the property at the time. >> i got a girl, hung herself. >> and the surprising $5 million civil jury award. >> plus breaking the ice. the one of a kind program bringing inner city girls into the high-priced sport of figure skating. >> when i'm on the ice i don't have to express myself through words it's just i'm skating. >> building confidence and determination.
>> we are black women, we can do anything that other people can do. >> guiding young women to greatness on and off the ice. >> anyone here ever coded before? >> but first here are the "nightline" five. ♪ ♪ ♪ raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens ♪ ♪ bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens ♪ ♪ brown paper packages tied up with strings ♪ ♪ these are a few of my favorite things ♪
for years, the family of a young woman found hanging and naked at the home of her boyfriend has insisted was not a suicide tonight we trace the timeline that led the jury to a stunning verdict. >> what kind of emergency are you reporting. >> a beautiful young woman found hanging from a balcony naked and bound. >> is she still alive. >> i don't know. >> 32-year-old rebecca zahau appeared to have it all a rich boyfriend in a fairy tale life in a southern california mansion. >> if rebecca walks in a room everybody remembers her. >> until it all ended. >> 32-year-old rebecca zahau found bound and hanging from a balcony. >> i said, my girlfriend whom i loved is dead. >> bizarre include clues left
behind. >> like a riddle. >> intricate knots in the rope. blood on the door. and knife with blood on it. ininvestigators call it suicide but her family says -- >> -- she was murdered. >> and the only other person on the property her boyfriend's brother. >> did you yourself do anything to her that resulted in her death? >> no. >> let's see if you can do it. >> we've been investigating this story. experts taking us through the theories of. >> she would have had to hop, hop, would have to throw yourself over, head first. >> i'm not completely satisfied this was a suicide. >> the mystery surrounding rebecca zahau's death dates back to july 2011. she was at her boyfriend's jonah shacknai's house with her young sister zena and shacknai's son max. sister and his six-year-old son max. >> rebecca is in the house with
her little sister and max is on the floor playing. and suddenly something happened. >> zena called 911. >> he fell down the stairs, he's not breathing. >> max took a horrific fall which neither rebecca nor zena saw. rebecca called jonah. >> i sprinted into the house and saw max playing on the floor. did he tell you how it happened. >> said i really don't know. >> jonah held vigil by max's hospital bedside and next day his brother adam flew in from tennessee. >> adam was in the guest house. rebecca was at home, they were the only two in the house. >> they were exceedingly cordial both good people. >> early on the that morning july 13th adam says walked into something unimaginable. >> he saw her body hanging from
the balcony and he called 911. >> i got a girl hung herself. >> is she still alive. >> i don't know. are you alive? no. >> adam told investigators he cut rebecca's body down and tried to resuscitate her but already too late, rebecca zahau was dead. >> can you imagine the impact of something like that when i was already facing certainly the biggest crisis of my life. >> and second tragedy few days later. >> six-year-old max died due to complications. >> and the san diego sheriff's department launched a full investigation. >> we all wanted answers. >> more than a month later at a press conference, the sheriff announced the mystery was solved. >> was max's death a homicide no was rebecca's death a homicide, again, the answer is no. >> he and his team lay out their findings,
max's death was result of a freak household accident. >> something caused him to trip. he then fell over the railing grabbing the lights. >> when it came to her death the autopsy and dna analysis showed no sign of attack. >> fingerprints from the balcony door and bed leg next to the rope were from rebecca. >> if it was suicide how could rebecca have tied her own hands behind her back in such a seemingly intricate way, investigators showed this video demonstration. >> simple matter of slipping her hands out. the binding were not tight. >> no woman would bind their hands, put a t-shirt in their mouth and jump over a balcony. >> did you ever believe that your sister was suicidal? >> no rebecca no, she does not have a suicidal personality.
>> her family petitioned to attorney general to reopen the case but the request was denied. >> the interest in this case remains years and years later and i hope somebody looks at this case again. >> it turned out someone was reexamining the case he was a seasoned private investigator in new york city. 20/20 retained him to do a deep dive into the case and he had questions about what the san diego investigators concluded saying only her footprints were found on the balcony she must have thrown herself off. but could an attacker thrown her off the balcony without stepping on it and leaving incriminating footprints. to see just how likely that could be, he brought me to this balcony. roughly the same dimensions as the one at shacknai's mansion. >> this similar.
a little bit heavier. really good way to determine if it is possible for me to do this. >> let's see if you can do it. it's not easy. >> but it's possible for you to not have stepped out there and positioned the body and thrown the body over. >> it shows that someone could have taken rebecca's body leaned it against the rail and shoved it over. >> i'm not completely satisfied this was suicide but also not enough evidence to show it was a homicide. >> even though the sheriff's department cleared jonah's shacknai's brother adam, her family was convinced he killed her and sued him in civil court. >> she was already dead or dieing from manual strangulation. >> not one single witness will give testimony that mr. shacknai
did those things. >> this is a civil case for money damages not criminal case to put anyone in prison. >> after six weeks the jury returned a verdict. >> ladies and gentlemen of the verdict were these, are these your verdict as read. >> yes. >> nine of the 12 agreed that adam shacknai was responsible for rebecca's death and awarded the family $5 million in damages. >> my sister was brutally murdered. she tried to escape. just the thought that she knew she was going to die breaks my heart, it just rips my heart out. >> i'm disappointed but got plenty of fight in me, plenty of health this ain't nothing. >> adam shacknai maintains his innocen innocence. >> i'm standing tall. they got lucky one time i don't think they're going to get lucky again. >> it seems to me this is more a case about accountability than dollars.
her family has been living with the coroner's ruling that she killed herself and never believe that and now they have a jury saying we don't believe it either. >> rebecca's sister says the verdict is welcome but not enough. they want the sheriff to reopen the investigation and charge adam shacknai that will likely be a tough battle. >> i was surprised with the verdict. i didn't see anything new. i think we came to the right conclusion if there's new evidence, something we missed please come in and sit with us. >> but it's a battle the family is vowing to fight. >> for seven years we had to fight to just prove that she didn't commit suicide even though we knew she didn't. i'm not going to give up. >> for "nightline" in new york. >> next here changing the face of skating. inner city girls finding a home
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♪ brown paper packages tied up with strings ♪ ♪ these are a few of my favorite things ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ figure skating is one of the widest sports around tonight will take you to an incredible organization in new york city that produces both athletes and something more. ♪ >> skating makes me feel great. everything else just doesn't matter. when i'm on the ice don't have to express myself through words it's just i'm skating and that's
all i have to focus on. >> 15-year-old girl has been skating since 6 years old. adopted as a baby she's often struggled with her identity. >> adoption is a tricky subject. big part of it is knowing where you come from. not being able to put two and two together can be confusing. >> she said skating helped to put it all together. >> it just kind of guided me in the right direction. >> she and her best friend are co-captains of figure. skating in harlem providing educational mentorship and access to an elite sport where few look like them. even in this year's winter olympics the complexon of the sport hasn't changed much not just in skating, historically the winter olympics is overwhelmingly white this year's team still 92% white. the girls are headed to one of
the last competitions of the season, connecticut synchronized skating competition. >> i'm excited. a little nervous i want to place in the top five. >> being one of the only teams exclusively for young women of color the girls say their differences are not always celebrated. >> it's unfortunate but race isn't everything. we went to our last competition and another team came past us like don't let them take your bags we're like we're not even by you we don't want your bags we have our bags. >> empowered to fight the perception that they're not real contenders. >> just because something doesn't have more resources doesn't mean it's more powerful, just skating on this team is more powerful than just skating. it's a statement. >> for girls ice time and coaches and gear training could cost up to $50,000 a year. >> in these times of division
in our country would you say fhs plays an even more significant role. >> no question. today it's more vital than ever that girls of color have opportunity to become everything and anything they can be in this world. >> sharon cohn founder of figure skating harlem says 100% of students pursue higher education that's the goal. >> our girls go on to georgetown, barnard, howard and spellman. >> she was once a competitive national gold medallist with olympic dreams but felt the sport was missing something. >> the palette today doesn't look different than when i skated. >> so she began teaching girls in east harlem to skate and in 1997 created a formal organization funded in part through charity able donations they train on and off the ice twice a week taking classes in science and leadership. >> anyone ever coded before? >> how can it be transformative.
>> it is really hard to figure skate. it takes perseverance. >> something i learned firsthand. >> i fell a lot. >> what's ice skating bring to your life. >> definitely brings confidence to my life. i feel this is where i'm supposed to be, like my home. >> at home and often in the stands is her dad raising destiny on his own. >> my sister would also skate in harlem. watching a french skater. >> a decorated olympian known for her famous yet banned back flips. >> she was intrigued a minority girl was skating. >> this is my favorite picture. >> he believes fhs changed his daughters trajectory. her mother left when destiny was just a baby. >> what are you thinking about right now?
>> what she's been through. and what she's going through in life and how this moment pure innocent. >> he raised me by himself. i never had a woman figure so once i came here i got sisters and stuff. >> her father pays $850 a year a fee they say is well worth it. >> we definitely struggle with money but we manage and this definitely helps. >> back at the competition, girls are preparing to take the ice. they're here with three other fhs teams. some as young as six years old. for nine-year-old camille lopez it's her first year on the team. >> the thing about fhs and all of the opportunities it gives you and also have programs to help you speak out and learn to be confident in yourself. >> figure skating harlem has
seen such a success expanded to motown. >> why detroit. >> it rose to the top because it had a community in need, in need of educational support as well as leadership that comes with skating. >> detroit who declared bankruptcy five years ago it's education struggling to rebound. >> we're strong and always find a way to come back. >> she's lived in detroit all her life when they learned about ice skating they were both thrilled. >> i was like i want to be a ice skater mommy. i was so excited, jumping around that whole day. >> this percocious little girl is already dreaming of the olympics. >> i'm strong. i am powerful. i can amount to anything. >> i new found confidence. >> we are black women, we can do anything that other people can do. >> back in connecticut at the competition ela and destiny's
team performs exhuberntly. but falls short of their goal. they come in eighth place. >> i'm always going to be the same level of proud because we got on the ice that's the hardest thing. >> feeling a little nervous. >> the song they chose to skate to, beyonce's "run the world". for the younger team, victory,and validation. >> astonished like oh, my god these people are black and won first place. wow that's incredible. like wow. i'm glad that we won. >> it is all at once a sisterhood a therapy session and confidence booster all built on
a foundation of ice. >> we walk in with our heads held high and let them know we're here and here to stay. >> for "nightline" in harlem, new york. >> thanks for that great story we'll be right back. >> announcer: abc news "nightline" sponsored by -- >> announcer: abc news "nightline" sponsored by -- is e with those we love, but does psoriasis ever get in the way? embrace the chance of 100% clear skin with taltz. for people with moderate to severe psoriasis, up to 90% had a significant improvement of their psoriasis plaques. with taltz, 4 out of 10 even achieved completely clear skin. don't use if you're allergic to taltz. before starting, you should be checked for tuberculosis. taltz may increase risk of infections and lower your ability to fight them. tell your doctor if you have an infection, symptoms, or received a vaccine or plan to. inflammatory bowel disease can happen with taltz, including worsening of symptoms. serious allergic reactions can occur. ready for a chance at 100% clear skin?
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>> he liked blond that's when i went really blond. >> to prove the innocence of her son. of a killing she knows he didn't commit. see how she lured the jury. wait until you see. >> are you sitting down. i said yes. >> what got her son's conviction overturned. how far will you go for your child. 20/20 friday, 9:00 central on abc >> i'll be watching. thank you for watching "nightline" as always we're on facebook 24/7 thank you again for watching and good night. ed ing "nightline" as always we're
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