Releasing Rohde on bail would make 'mockery of criminal justice system' - judge

2019-08-15 14:23
Convicted wife killer Jason Rohde. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)

Convicted wife killer Jason Rohde. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)

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The Western Cape High Court on Thursday dismissed convicted killer Jason Rohde's argument that he needed time out of prison to sort out his business and economic interests, pending his appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe said it was not new fact that Rohde was suffering hardship in prison, that his financial affairs were precarious and that he could not afford his legal fees.

Rohde alleged that he had been kept in a single cell at Drakenstein Prison for six months, without interaction with others, for 23 hours a day. He also said he had no access to newspapers, radio and television, and suffered from depression.

She said the defence had abandoned its argument that Rohde was being mistreated in prison.

"Essentially, it boils down to the fact that Mr Rohde finds incarceration unbearable. Mr Rohde, it was argued, wants his 'freedom' and not being 'kept in chains' and 'in a prison cell'," the judge said in her 28-page bail judgment.

Rohde had argued that he needed to be released to deal with a "hostile takeover" of his company, as well as to help avoid a situation where funds for his daughters would run out by the end of the year.

Salie-Hlophe was not persuaded that the facts before her were sufficiently compelling to justify his release.

If anything, the interests of justice required that he continue serving his effective 20-year sentence for killing his wife Susan in 2016, she said.

"Releasing Mr Rohde, who was convicted of the savage murder of his wife, on the basis essentially that he had been granted leave to appeal and that his release would allow him to manage his wealth and other needs and comforts, would threaten law and order," she said.

"It undoubtedly offends the principle of equality and the rule of law which renders all of us equal before the law, irrespective of our economic standing and position in society."

She said the judiciary had to avoid creating the impression that the lives of women were less worthy of protection.

"...this court is of the view that releasing Mr Rohde on bail for the reasons advanced would offend the rule of law and would make a mockery of the criminal justice system," she said.

Salie-Hlophe found Rohde guilty in November last year of the murder of his wife Susan - and of and staging her suicide - at the Spier Hotel in Stellenbosch three years ago.

Extramarital affair

She said he had "staged her death as a play" and roped in various "actors" and "extras" to fabricate a story that she had killed herself.

Rohde has, however, maintained his innocence, claiming his extramarital affair had driven his wife to take her own life.

In February, he was sentenced to 18 years for the murder and five years for staging the suicide, of which three years were ordered to be served concurrently with the murder sentence.

He applied for leave to appeal, but Salie-Hlophe turned down his request in April, saying the defence had rehashed arguments made during Rohde's trial and sentencing.

He petitioned the SCA and, last month, secured leave to appeal to that court.

A date has not yet been set for the hearing.

Flight risk

Salie-Hlophe said the court had to make a judgement call as to whether there was a reasonable apprehension of flight risk.

She took into account that besides his South African passport, he also had Australian and United Kingdom passports.

"The fact that Mr Rohde's passports are in police custody and (some) expired, does not exclude the possibility of him obtaining other passports through other means," she said.

The court could not turn a blind eye to the fact that he held these rights of passage and stay to other countries, she said.

In his bail application in the magistrate's court, Rohde declared that he had an active bank account, with around Aus$14 000, and an investment portfolio with National Australia Bank.

Salie-Hlophe said that the full bench had taken similar facts into account when dismissing the bail appeal by Najwa Petersen, who was at the time accused of killing her husband and artist Taliep Petersen (and later convicted).

'Classic cat and mouse game'

Rohde argued that it should count in his favour that he had fully complied with his bail conditions during his trial.

Salie-Hlophe pointed out that this was not entirely correct, as he had failed to appear in court on February 5, 2018.

His defence team told the court at the time that he had been hospitalised.

Two sick notes were shown to Salie-Hlophe in chambers, but were not placed on record as the defence felt the contents were confidential. A letter had also indicated that he was unwilling to return to court with the police as no court order had been produced.

Salie-Hlophe said the manner in which his absence was addressed was cause for concern.

Describing it as a "classic cat and mouse game", she said the defence team and Rohde had sought to play hide and seek with the court until she then authorised a warrant of arrest and he was brought to court.

"Like the Full Bench in Petersen, which was faced with essentially similar relevant facts, this court is likewise satisfied that Mr Rohde was also not totally frank, honest and in good faith regarding his state of health and showed an undermine of his bail conditions (sic)."

Salie-Hlophe ordered that a copy of her bail judgment and a transcription of the proceedings be placed before the SCA judges hearing Rohde's appeal.

The defence is on Friday expected to bring an application to appeal her bail judgment.

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Read more on:    jason rohde  |  cape town  |  courts  |  crime
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