'I am a scientist' - pathologist accused of bias in Rohde murder trial

2017-12-05 18:29
Forensic pathologist Dr Deidre Abrahams. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Forensic pathologist Dr Deidre Abrahams. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town - Paarl chief state pathologist Dr Deidre Abrahams looked for anything that could be used against Jason Rohde in his murder trial, the defence charged as it wrapped up its cross-examination of her in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday.

"I also want to put it to you that, far from being an independent expert on whose objectivity reliance can be placed, you have entirely aligned yourself with a conviction of the accused," said advocate Graham van der Spuy, who has handled the medical aspect of Rohde's defence.

"That is absolutely untrue, my Lady. I am a scientist," Abrahams told Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.

Van der Spuy accused Abrahams of "consistently and throughout" her testimony, ignoring opinions of "every single recognised world authority in the field of medicine" that was put to her, as she insisted that Susan had been manually strangled and asphyxiated to death.

He accused her of never answering a straight question simply and that she would instead "trot out" her theory on how Susan had died and what happened to her body in her final moments.

READ: Pathologist insists Susan Rohde was strangled

Susan Rohde was found dead in a bathroom at Spier Wine Farm on July 24, 2016.

Her husband Jason claims she hanged herself after a row over a woman he had an affair with, who was also at the conference.

But the State has charged him with murder and obstruction of justice, for allegedly staging her hanging.

At the time, he and his wife were attending a conference in his then-capacity as CEO of Geffen International Realty Franchises. He has pleaded not guilty.

In the 30 minutes that Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe gave Van der Spuy to wrap up the cross-examination, he also laid into Abrahams for "vexatiously" slamming the private autopsy conducted by Dr Reggie Perumal on behalf of the defence.

This autopsy supported Rohde's contention that his wife had hanged herself in the bathroom of their suite.

"You select facts, you misrepresent the known information and evidence, and you manipulate it to try and support your view," said Van der Spuy.

'We are scientists'

Abrahams said the autopsy conducted by her colleague Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan and observed by herself was done without bias and she supported his findings, also of strangulation and asphyxiation.

"We are scientists. We have to make observations of our findings. We have shown step by step our examination of the crime scene," she said.

She stood her ground on her criticism of Perumal's report, even though she has been threatened, by the defence, with legal action.

In a rare moment of sass, she said: "I have not been shown every world authority in this case."

ALSO READ: Defence in Rohde case draws on death of Steve Biko in 'paid' autopsy argument

After Abrahams finally stepped down, Enforce security guard Kwanele Mabeta testified about what he saw on patrol at Spier after he started work at 18:00 on July 23, 2016.

Mabeta said that, just after tagging in to the security system at Spier at 3.23.45, he spotted a woman in a white gown and a man in black pants while conducting patrols.

The man was pushing the woman, he said, and they appeared upset, judging from their facial expressions.

He said he did not see where they went to afterwards but later reported to his control room that the door of room 221 - the room the Rohdes had stayed in - was open.

He was asked if he would have intervened if he had seen the man hit the woman with a fist. He said he would have called for backup because there were two people, but he said there was no need to do so because they were not fighting.

Court was adjourned for recess until February 5.

Amended bail conditions

Two witnesses from Australia are expected to testify via CCTV to keep costs down.

Salie-Hlophe granted an amendment on Rohde's bail conditions, allowing him to travel to Plettenberg Bay until his trial resumed next year.

"It has been a tough few weeks, but we will be back fresh in the new year," said Salie-Hlophe as she adjourned for the holidays.

According to Salie-Hlophe, Rohde's Plettenberg Bay itinerary will have to include set visits to the local police station, and his passports will remain with the clerk of the court at the Stellenbosch Magistrate's Court.

He may not apply for any travel documents outside of South Africa, including Australia and the United Kingdom.

Rohde was born in the UK, and is a South African citizen. He had also lived in Australia for a brief period.

His bail of R100 000 remains in place, as does the R1m property surety he lodged with the Stellenbosch Magistrate's Court after his bail application.

His address in Plettenberg Bay was not made public, but the court heard during his bail application that the family owned a property there worth R2.2m.

Until he leaves for Plettenberg Bay, he has to report to Sea Point police and, if he needs to travel from Plettenberg Bay to Johannesburg, or to consult his legal team, the investigating officer has to be informed, and grant permission.

He may not visit ports of entry or departure in South Africa without the investigating officer's permission.

Read more on:    jason rohde  |  cape town  |  crime

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