Spier manager, policeman deny coaching State witness in Jason Rohde trial

Maintenance worker, Desmond Daniels demonstrates how he found Susan Rhode’s body during Jason Rohde’s trial at the Western Cape High Court (File, Gallo Images)
Maintenance worker, Desmond Daniels demonstrates how he found Susan Rhode’s body during Jason Rohde’s trial at the Western Cape High Court (File, Gallo Images)

A policeman and the general manager of Spier Hotel & Leisure on Tuesday both denied telling a State witness what to say in the murder trial of former property mogul Jason Rohde, in the Western Cape High Court.

The defence had recently raised concerns that Desmond Daniels, a maintenance worker at the Spier estate in Stellenbosch, may have been coached.

Daniels unlocked the bathroom door at Rohde's suite, at the accused's request, the day that the body of Rohde's wife Susan was found.

The Rohdes were attending a conference at the estate on July 24, 2016, and Susan was found hanging from a hook behind the bathroom door.

Although her death was thought to be a suicide, the accused was later charged for her murder and staging her suicide.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The State called a few witnesses to address concerns that Daniels had been told what to say and had looked to others in court. 

READ: Susan Rohde's full weight would have led to curling iron cord failure, court hears

Spier general manager Joep Schoof said he offered counselling to all workers after the incident, including Daniels, and had wanted to provide him with support.

'When he was telling untruths'

He said he committed himself to be present in court for Daniels.

"I wanted to make sure he was comfortable. Whenever we walked outside, I asked how he was feeling and offered him something to eat or drink. We had conversations about water, family, rain, other topics not related to the court matter."

When presented with a photo of the two having lunch together, he did not deny it, despite Daniels telling the court previously he had lunch on his own between testimony.

"I was here to look after him and that's what I did," said Schoof.

Asked about Daniels looking at him while testifying, he said he had shared his public speaking tip with him to look for familiar faces. He told Daniels he was welcome to look at him, if it made him feel comfortable.

Under cross-examination, Advocate Graham van der Spuy offered another possibility.

"The only time he looked up at you was when he was telling untruths."

The court also heard the testimony of Sergeant Stephen Adams, who was with Daniels on two occasions.

Adams, who's been a detective for 15 years, said that what Daniels told police about the "incident" was exactly as he testified in court.

He did not tell Daniels what to say but instead prepared him for court, as he had never been in court or testified before.

'Totally untrue' 

Van der Spuy asked why Adams had not taken a statement from the Rohde's longstanding domestic worker, Lucy, who had apparently told the police officer that she never witnessed any violence in the home.

READ: 'I killed her,' Jason Rohde allegedly told his brother-in-law after Susan's death

Adams replied that he found it very difficult as she spoke another language and he had planned to visit her again with an interpreter.

When he spoke to her again, she apparently said she did not want to talk to police anymore.

Adams also did not file a statement of his own on what she had told him.

"The reason why you didn't take that statement from her was because it was favourable to the accused and indicates your approach to the matter. We will also be calling Lucy as [a] witness," said van der Spuy.

The defence added that the policeman had repeatedly asked Lucy whether Rohde had bribed her to say favourable things about him.

"That's totally untrue," Adams replied.

Van der Spuy said: "We will see if Lucy is telling lies".

The trial was postponed until April 23 to allow the State to finalise its witness list.

Rohde's bail was extended with conditions that would allow him to take his children to Plettenberg Bay over Easter if he wished.

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