Rohde trial: State pathologist 'let himself down completely', defence argues

2018-11-07 16:56
Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan. (Jaco Marais)

Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan. (Jaco Marais) (jaco marais)

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The demise of the State's case against Jason Rohde started from the moment that its forensic pathologist, Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan, jumped to conclusions at the scene that Susan Rohde's death could be a homicide, the defence submitted on Wednesday.

Delivering closing arguments in the Western Cape High Court, Rohde's lawyer Graham van der Spuy said Coetzee-Khan's evidence did not stand the test of scrutiny and could not be accepted.

"He was a very inexperienced consultant and had been on register for about a year when he was given this high-profile case. His inspection at the scene is when everything started to go wrong," van der Spuy said.

A year ago, Coetzee-Khan testified that he recommended police investigate a possible homicide in 2016 after noting blood stains in the room, scratches on Susan's face and blunt-force trauma injuries which suggested a physical altercation.

ALSO READ: Jason Rohde has a habit of lying – State cautions court

The result of arriving at a premature conclusion was a "cacophony of accumulated incorrect assumptions" that coloured the first autopsy, Van der Spuy said.

"In numerous material aspects, Dr Khan let himself down completely," he argued.

According to the defence, the pathologist displayed "serious ignorance of even the most basic forensic principles", did not tell the truth and "incompetently" performed the inspection at the scene and then the autopsy.

Van der Spuy pointed out issues he believed were devastating for Coetzee-Khan.

The first was that he used lividity to determine what position Susan was in when she died.

"If you die in a hanging position and are cut down before lividity sets in, and then lie on your back for a few hours or more, lividity is going to set in on the posterior aspects, on the back, on the buttocks, on the back of the legs. You can't use lividity to say in which position a person died," he said.

The second was determining with "95% probability" that Susan died at 05:40, later conceding that his methods were flawed.

Van der Spuy said even a layman knew time of death calculations were fraught with difficulties.

At best, a pathologist could say that Susan died between 03:40 and 08:28, he said.

The defence asserted that other incorrect conclusions included:

  • when Coetzee-Khan saw bruises on Susan's inner thighs and believed she could be a victim of domestic violence;
  • when he claimed the hyoid bone in the neck was fractured but scans showed it was not; and
  • when he concluded death was not by hanging because of the location and appearance of the ligature injuries.

Van der Spuy also took a dim view of the evidence of Dr Deidre Abrahams, a State pathologist who observed the first autopsy.

"I think that her evidence can be discounted in its entirety," he said.

Abrahams accused the defence's forensic pathologist, Dr Reggie Perumal, of being a "hired gun".

Both she and Coetzee-Khan believed he had left out, missed or misinterpreted many aspects in his second autopsy a few days later.

Van der Spuy said on Wednesday that Perumal had handled this character assassination "with dignity and professionalism".

ALSO READ: Susan Rohde was a fighter and had more than her marriage to live for - State during closing arguments

He said the evidence of Perumal and its second forensic pathologist, Dr Izak Loftus, should be accepted above that of the State.

"Dr Loftus clearly showed signs of vital reaction... You don't get vital reaction like that if you apply a ligature to a deceased person's neck.

"Dr Loftus' testimony, to my mind, demonstrated everything of a good expert."

He said the State did not challenge any of Loftus' PowerPoint presentations on his observations of the ligature mark, other injuries and time of death calculations, during cross-examination. 

The trial continues.

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

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