Was it suicide or murder? Judge to hear closing arguments in Rohde trial

2018-11-06 07:11
Picture: Adrian de Kock/Netwerk24

Picture: Adrian de Kock/Netwerk24

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Did a heartbroken Susan Rohde end her own life in the bathroom of a fancy winelands hotel in July 2016 or did her husband Jason violently cut her life short and try to lead police off the trail?

Closing arguments for and against these scenarios will be presented in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday when the State and Rohde's defence team face off after an almost three-month break.

Likely to be at the centre of their presentations is the physical clues that give an indication of what happened in Susan's last moments. 

The court faces a challenging task in making sense of the testimonies from four pathologists who weighed in on possible causes of death, and deciding which is beyond reasonable doubt.

The State maintains that Rohde manually strangled his wife to death and/or inflicted "other violence" that was unknown, following months of heated arguments over his affair with colleague Jolene Alterskye.

The two had been at Spier Hotel for a weekend conference that Alterskye was also attending.

Read: Jason Rohde: 'If it wasn't for my disgusting behaviour, Susan would still be alive today'

Blood stains, scratches, blunt force injuries

One possibility that prosecutor Louis van Niekerk put forward during the trial was that Rohde had smothered his wife with a cushion as it was "the only way to shut her up".

Van Niekerk said Rohde then tried to stage a suicide by dragging her body to the bathroom and using an electric cord to hang her from a hook on the back of the door. 

Last October, State pathologist Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan testified that he had recommended police investigate a possible homicide after noting blood stains in the room, scratches on Susan's face and blunt force trauma injuries which suggested a physical altercation.

Coetzee-Khan found injuries to suggest that she had been punched in the face, her neck squeezed with a hand, a hand or object placed over her nose and mouth, her chest or ribs kicked, punched or kneed, and the back of her head pushed against a surface.

There were signs of a physical altercation before strangulation which lasted more than a few minutes, and could have lasted up to an hour, he said at the time.

State pathologist Dr Deidre Abrahams observed the autopsy that Coetzee-Khan conducted and testified that she supported his findings of strangulation and asphyxiation.

Also read: 10 things the defence says the State pathologist missed

Rohde has pleaded not guilty to these charges and emphasised during his testimony that the only thing he was guilty of was being an adulterer.

"The option for me was divorce, my lady, not murder. With all my faults, I am not a murderer. I made a lot of mistakes, but I am not a murderer."

Defence pathologist '95% sure'

The defence maintains that Susan took her own life or had a failed parasuicide attempt.

Defence pathologist Dr Reggie Perumal, who conducted a second autopsy on Susan, testified that suicide by hanging was the most probable cause, but he could not exclude other possibilities, such as manual strangulation.

He also said it was possible that marks of faecal matter next to her body and outside the hotel bathroom door could possibly be as a result of her being dragged after she had died and soiled herself.

A second forensic pathologist testifying for the defence said he was 95% sure that Susan had committed suicide.

"I believe that, after taking everything into account, beyond reasonable doubt, the deceased on that morning hanged herself in the bathroom," Dr Izak Loftus said during the trial.

"She didn't die instantaneously. She was rescued or taken off from the ligature and she was unsuccessfully resuscitated."

He said that, like many other cases where CPR was unsuccessful, Susan had been "beyond the point of return" in the dying process.

Loftus said he had seen signs that were consistent with a ligature being applied to her neck while she was still alive.

Read more on:    susan rhode  |  jason ­rohde  |  cape town  |  courts

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