'As an adulterer, you live a deceitful, double life'
Murder-accused Jason Rohde tells the court he blames himself for his wife's death
Murder accused real estate CEO Jason Rohde says he is to blame for his wife, Susan’s, death.
In the Cape Town High Court on Monday and Tuesday his testimony wove a disturbing tapestry explaining the disintegration of his marriage, the golden thread being his deceit and lies while he tried to conceal his long distance affair with his Cape Town mistress.
Rohde claims he found his wife, Susan, in their hotel bathroom at the Spier wine estate near Stellenbosch two years ago and that she had committed suicide by hanging herself with a hair ironing cord from a hook behind the bathroom door.
The state, however, has argued that after a protracted and heated physical and verbal confrontation, which happened on the Spier grounds right after a black tie event on July 23 2016, Rohde strangled her to death and then staged her suicide by placing the hair ironing cord loosely around her neck and a towel hook.
On Tuesday the emotional former Lew Geffen Sotheby’s CEO said he blamed himself for Susan’s death and that his whole life imploded after she died.
“I thought of my children and how ashamed I was. I’m talking about that my behaviour caused their mom to go to this length and there can only be one person to blame for that and that’s me,” said Rohde.
He said that after returning to Johannesburg and attending the funeral he became “like a zombie”.
“After Susan passed away, I completely shut down. My entire being shut down. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat, I didn’t shower. I was like a shell, I was broken,” he said.He said that he also had to explain to his distraught teenage daughters what had happened to their mother.
“I told them that their mom had died not because she didn’t love them but because of my actions,” he said as tears started rolling down his strained face.
Over the past two days he explained how Susan’s discovery of his affair with Cape Town real estate agent Jolene Alterskye set in motion a chain of behaviour which led Susan to becoming ever more angry, sad and obsessed with Rohde’s infidelity.
But Rohde testified on Monday that he was torn between his life of adultery and his family life.
“When you’re an adulterer you live a double life. You hide things, and you duck and you dive, and you just ... You just hide. And you’re just deceitful,” he said.
Four weeks after Rohde committed to calling off his affair in February 2016 he secretly rekindled it, and started concealing it while a suspicious Susan was still trying to uncover how over the past few years his affair with Alterskye had slowly hollowed out their marital bond.He said he was lying to Susan, their marriage councillor and even his psychologist who he was seeing so he could start to address his constant dishonesty.
Still suspicious of his trips to Cape Town, Susan insisted on accompanying Rohde to the Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty annual conference where he, as the CEO of the company, was the host.
Rohde said that after the black-tie event and prizegiving on the Saturday evening the couple were still arguing bitterly as Susan knew that Rohde was trying to see Alterskye at an after party.
Alterskye worked at the company’s Atlantic Seaboard office in Sea Point at the time.
She tried to physically stop him as he went searching for Alterskye by blocking the exit of their room, which led to him grabbing her neck and shoving her aside.
After he found Jolene at a friend’s hotel room followed closely by an enraged Susan, he decided to call it a night and return to his room and go to sleep.
He said that after he woke up the next morning Susan showed him a message which Alterskye had sent her telling her to “Wash her mouth”, referring to the foul language Susan allegedly used during the altercation.Rohde told her that he wanted a divorce and she went into the bathroom and shut the door.
He said that he went back to sleep and when he woke up an hour later just past 8am, the door was still closed.
He shouted for Susan to open, but, according to him, he thought that she was taking a bath and was “punishing” him by not allowing him in to brush his teeth and shower so he could be ready for the next event which was scheduled to start at 9am.
But then he said he felt a “premonition” that something was wrong.
“In my minds eye Susan was lying in the bath saying screw you, go to the conference without brushing your teeth,” he said.
“Not in a million years would I believe Susan would have committed suicide,” he said.His narrative seemed to contrast with some of the other witness testimonies, such as that of the handyman Desmond Daniels who first unlocked the hotel room bathroom door from the outside using a screwdriver.
Daniels said that when he opened the door he could see a white female lying on the ground, but Rohde said that she was in fact hanging from the door with the cord still wrapped tightly around her neck.
He was asked by Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe to demonstrate this with the actual bathroom door from room 221 which the couple shared, and which was now an exhibit in court.
Rohde awkwardly positioned himself behind the door which was held up by a court orderly and, with his legs and feet lying eerily and unnaturally to the right of his body, he hunched forward in a way which seemed as though his neck were suspended by an invisible cord.
The matter continues on Wednesday.