Rohde trial judge calls defence out over courtroom tactics

2017-11-15 19:49
Susan Rohde. (Image via Facebook)

Susan Rohde. (Image via Facebook)

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Cape Town – The judge presiding over Jason Rohde's murder trial became annoyed by the defence's treatment of his wife's doctor during a gruelling session of cross-examination in the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday.

"The last time I checked this was a murder trial," said Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe to defence lawyer Advocate Graham van der Spuy.

"Is this witness now on trial for malpractice?" she asked.

Susan Rohde was found dead in a bathroom at Spier wine estate in Stellenbosch on July 24, 2016. She had accompanied her property magnate husband Jason to the annual Sotheby's conference which he was attending as CEO of Geffen International Realty Franchises.

At first, it was thought she had committed suicide, but Jason has since been charged with murder, and for tampering with the murder scene. He has pleaded not guilty.

READ: Rohde lawyer raises 'link' between Urbanol, Stilnox and suicide

Johannesburg general practitioner Lize-Maré Steenkamp had testified that she had been giving a "poised" Susan regular Botox injections to smooth out her forehead and eyes since February 10, 2014.

In 2016, she prescribed the sleeping tablet Stilnox and calming tablet Urbanol as a short-term measure for Susan when she said she was having marital problems and was battling to sleep and eat. She also prescribed medication to help with the indigestion Susan complained of.

Suicide risk

She told the court that she did not delve into the marital problems because Susan did not want to discuss the matter. She considered Susan to be sad and tearful, but not depressed or suffering from an anxiety disorder, and not in need of a referral to a psychiatrist.

She said Susan told her the medication was helping because she was sleeping better and feeling calmer. Susan also told her she was also seeing a therapist.

ALSO READ: Susan Rohde traumatised, but not suicidal says couple's counsellor

But Van der Spuy listed the titles of volumes on the subjects of anxiety, depression and suicide, and also handed up the package inserts of the medication the doctor prescribed. He said it was common knowledge that potential risk of suicide or suicidal ideation are side effects of Urbanol and Stilnox.

He repeatedly wanted to know why Steenkamp had prescribed the medication and why she had not picked up what medical experts regard as obvious signs of depression.

He also accused her of not doing her job properly in not conducting a full examination of Susan without her clothes on and not taking any blood for Susan to be tested for various ailments, including stomach cancer, given her indigestion.

Steenkamp had only ever taken Susan's blood pressure once, Van der Spuy said, and he contended that her note-taking was sparse.

Missed signs

The court has already heard that at the time of her death Susan knew about her husband Jason's affair with Cape Town estate agent Jolene Alterskye. She had told nobody about the affair, but she and Jason had been exchanging numerous WhatsApp messages over it, swinging between gentleness and anger.

Van der Spuy also accused Steenkamp of exceeding the maximum two weeks that patients are supposed to take "short-term" medication for, by repeating her scripts once for Urbanol and Stilnox.

Van der Spuy said medical writings show that the risk of suicide with Urbanol increases if it is only taken occasionally. Steenkamp had prescribed it to be taken "as needed".

He also wanted to know why the doctor did not know that Susan had started smoking, and had increased her alcohol intake.

His main thrust was that she had missed vital signs of depression, which Steenkamp denied Susan had shown.

So in reply to Salie-Hlophe's concern about the line of questioning, Van der Spuy said: "I also believe that the injudicious use of these drugs has a major effect on this case."

Steenkamp turned to Salie-Hlophe later and said: "I don't think Mrs Rohde had mental illness. I think she had anxiety because of her marital [problems].

"Everyone experiences anxiety when they are under stress. That does not mean everybody has a mental illness."

'Silly semantics'

She said an anxiety disorder was different from being anxious.

"She did not look depressed. She was anxious. I accept that it is very difficult to predict suicide in patients, but my experience of her was not that she was a severely depressed patient with a risk of suicide at all."

After the lunch break, lead defence counsel Advocate Pete Mihalik asked if he could talk to Salie-Hlophe without Steenkamp in the courtroom.

The doctor left the room, and Mihalik said that he and his colleagues decided they had been testing the patience of the court and "engaging in silly semantics", but said the details were important with regard to the "suicide vs murder" question.

"We don't want to be on the wrong side of this honourable court."

Salie-Hlophe said that she would have to intervene again if the witness was "badgered" and "harangued".

Steenkamp returned and after a brief polite session, the case was postponed to November 25 for the state pathologist to continue testifying.

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

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