Rohde’s pathologist challenges smothering, physical altercation findings

Jason Rohde.(Adrian de Kock/Netwerk24)
Jason Rohde.(Adrian de Kock/Netwerk24)

The pathologist paid by Jason Rohde to do a second autopsy on his wife Susan in 2016 on Wednesday, contradicted the State pathologist's testimony that Susan had been smothered and that injuries to her ribs and chest were the result of a physical altercation.

Dr Reggie Perumal also said that he found no injuries to rule out Rohde's version of events.

He did the autopsy at Rohde's request, more than a week after her death.

His report suggested her injuries were consistent with ligature strangulation.

The history he provided in the report was that she had hanged herself with an electric cord. This was in line with Rohde's version that he found Susan's body hanging from the bathroom door of the hotel room at the Spier Wine Estate on July 24, 2016.

Rohde has pleaded not guilty to killing his wife and defeating/obstructing the ends of justice by staging a suicide and supplying false information to police.

WATCH: Forensic pathologist testifies in Rohde trial

In 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.

He ripped into Perumal's report at the time, saying some sections were "deliberately misleading", incomplete, alleged, unattributed, vague or left open to interpretation.

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.

'Hired gun'

Dr Deidre Abrahams, another State pathologist, had insinuated during her testimony that Perumal was a "hired gun", and that his neutrality was questionable.

Perumal said he appreciated it when criticism was not personal but based on science and logic.

"With my experience in giving evidence, I have worked with very senior people. This is the first time I have encountered such comments."

Turning to forensic pathology reports, he said practitioners should refrain from putting in too much opinion.

"We need lots of information before we make an opinion. Often, you will be proven wrong when more information becomes available."

He emphasised he had done "many, many" autopsies and had 29 years' experience.

The court was told about many alleged errors that Coetzee-Khan had made, including failing to do a facial flap dissection to look for injuries that were only visible under the skin.

Perumal, who authored a chapter in a book on violence against women and children, said there was an "enormous onus" to do this dissection where a female victim had died and where there were fresh and healing injuries.

He said he had found no evidence of smothering.

After an X-ray and CT-scan, he also concluded that, apart from a bit of bleeding, the hyoid bone (which serves as an anchoring structure for the tongue) was entirely intact, without fractures.

He pointed out that injuries to the structures in the neck were the most common skeletal injuries in hanging cases, but that their presence could not prove or support either manual or ligature strangulation.

CPR can cause fractures

He found bruises on her tongue, fractures on the sternum, left and right ribs, and some hemorrhaging with the right ribs, which indicated blood circulation at the time of injury.

Perumal said it was common to find fractures caused by aggressive compressions from CPR.

Both Rohde and his colleague performed CPR in the hotel bathroom.

ALSO READ: Jason Rohde murdered his wife to shut her up, prosecutor charges

Rohde testified that he had never done CPR before but had only seen it in the movies.

Using a marker on a female mannequin, Perumal indicated the ligature marks he had found on the neck, and said the most probable point of suspension was towards the right ear, where a knot would have been.

He referred to research based on videos of hangings to indicate that death could occur quite quickly, and a person could end up in a different position at death because of movement from convulsions.

Defence lawyer Graham van der Spuy asked Perumal if he had found any injuries to contradict Rohde's version of events.

"No, there is nothing I can specifically say that is totally inconsistent with the version he has put before this court."

Perumal's testimony continues on Thursday morning.

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