'Susan was a suicide risk'- forensic psychiatrist hired by Jason Rohde

2018-06-11 17:29
Susan Rohde. (Image via Facebook)

Susan Rohde. (Image via Facebook)

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Susan Rohde's personality, history, symptoms and difficulties after finding out about her husband Jason's affair made her a suicide risk, a forensic psychiatrist told the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

"In a psychiatric sense… I disagree with her psychologist that she was not a suicide risk. I think she was a suicide risk, but I can't say at all what happened [that night]," said Dr Larissa Panieri-Peter, a defence witness.

Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe pointed out that Panieri-Peter did not have the same benefit that Susan's clinical psychologist, Jane Newcombe, had in being able to consult with her.

Panieri-Peter formed her professional opinion after being hired by the defence to do a "psychological autopsy" of Susan, following her death at the Spier Wine estate hotel on July 24, 2016.

Her mandate was also to look at factors that may or may not be congruent with suicide.

READ: Rohde trial: 10 things the defence says the State pathologist missed

Rohde has pleaded not guilty to charges of killing his wife and staging a suicide by hanging her body on the back of their hotel bathroom door.

Panieri-Peter did a psychiatric evaluation of Rohde in September 2016 and spent a combined 20 hours between then and January this year interviewing him.

She said she had looked at numerous documents and interviewed one of their daughters, mutual friends of the couple, their marriage counsellor Carol Nader, and individual psychologists to help form her opinion.

Susan's family and some of her friends declined her invite to be interviewed.

The forensic psychologist took the court through her 43-page report, revealing how those around Susan had noticed changes in her mood, behaviour and appearance in the months leading up to her death.

'She wanted world to just see good side of her and her family'

She was told that Susan had gone from being an ardent anti-smoker her whole life to taking up smoking shortly before her death; along with swearing more, having conflict with others and being noted as unusually flirtatious.

Salie-Hlophe said she was concerned that Panieri-Peter's report stated what other people had reported to her.

The judge later added that she felt the witness had overstepped by not sticking to her professional opinion. 

"I am not sure, with the greatest respect, if it is your role to set out what was previously testified. That is the role of the court," she said.

Panieri-Peter apologised and said that was never her intention.

Moving to her professional opinion, she said: "With all the information I have from multiple sources, including my interpretation, I would say that she had major depression with the specifiers of anxious distress and mixed moods. That alone increased her risk of suicide very significantly."

She said Susan had numerous psychological vulnerabilities and a dramatic change in her demeanour.

"These were a personality that was high energy, on the go, busy. She naturally didn't sleep for very long, she was a person who had some insecurities, she was a perfectionist, she wanted the world to just see the good side of her and her family."

She said Susan was socially isolated because she did not share things that were painful to her with others.

Panieri-Peter said she may have had some genetic risk factors for mood disorder.

'It gives a very sad picture of Susan'

She then turned to the weekend that the couple attended the Lew Geffen Sotheby's International Realty annual conference at Spier.

"What she really wanted to achieve that weekend was that everyone would see that she and her husband were together, that she would prove to herself that she had won over the mistress [Jolene Alterskye]," said Panieri-Peter.

Instead, the circumstances appeared to have been the "absolute crushing opposite" of what she had hoped for.

She said that rather than proving "to the world and herself that she had won", it became obvious to Susan that Jason was still seeing his mistress and had been lying to her.

The court was referred to Susan calling Newcombe shortly before her death to express anxiety about the weekend and shaking hands with Jolene. It had taken about 10 minutes to calm her down over the phone.

Salie-Hlophe said: "The impression I got was that Susan was very much in control and had a far more positive rapport with her psychologist than what you are setting out here.

"It comes across as if Susan was feeling very positive about herself, but what you are relaying here is very negative. If I read your conclusion, it gives a very sad picture of Susan." 

Panieri-Peter said it was unfortunate that Newcombe and Nader had not spoken or consulted about Susan with each other.

Her testimony will resume on Tuesday.

Read more on:    susan rohde

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