Jason Rohde: 'Being an adulterer doesn't mean you're a murderer'
But he refers detailed questions under cross-examination about wife's death to his pathologist
Murder accused Jason Rohde’s account of his wife Susan’s “easy bruising” does not hold water with the postmortem report indicating that her strangling was made to look like a suicide.
The confident former Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty CEO seemed well studied on the witness testimonies of the events which unfolded on the morning he claims to have found his wife hanging from a hair ironing cord behind the hotel door in the Spier wine estate near Stellenbosch.
During cross examination on Monday he appeared to deflect the technical details of how the cord was wrapped around Susan’s neck to private forensic pathologist Dr Regi Perumal.
The state is accusing Rohde of having staged Susan’s suicide after he allegedly strangled her to death on July 24 2016.
State pathologists Dr Deirdre Abrahams and Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan said that Susan had several bruises and appeared to be suffering from battered wife syndrome.Rohde denied having ever beaten Susan. He explained that a lengthy physical confrontation the night before her death – when his “elbow made contact with her nose” and he grabbed her neck to shove her out of his way – was not deliberate.
The state said that the older bruises indicated there was a history of abuse, but Rohde’s legal team previously said Susan had a medical condition from which she bruised easily.
“I never hit her. I’ve never struck my wife in my marriage,” he said.
State prosecutor Van Niekerk presented the court with a slide show and questioned Rohde on how the electric cord from the hair straightener (which he claims she used to hang herself) was tied around her neck.
Rohde had previously stated that it was tied in a tight knot around her neck but, when asked to indicate on one of four illustrations how she was hanging, he said he could not remember and referred the question to Dr Perumal.Van Niekerk indicated that there could only have been two types of knots: a static knot and a glide knot.
He said the static knot would have been near-impossible to do since she would have had to either tie it around her own neck, strangling herself in the process, or she would have had to tie it beforehand in which case she could not get it over her head.
Desmond Daniels, the handyman whom Rohde called to help him open the locked bathroom door and who helped Rohde undo the knot around her neck, testified previously that the knot was loose and easy to undo.
But Rohde contests this, saying that it was tied tightly around her neck.Van Niekerk also pointed out that, if Susan was hanging from a noose-like configuration, there would have been bruising at the area right where the cord’s contact with her neck ended.
This would not have happened, however, if the cord was wrapped around her neck after she was already dead and blood circulation had stopped.
Earlier on Monday Van Niekerk accused Rohde of meticulously sticking to a rehearsed script when coming under cross examination.
“All of this is a lie!” he said when Rohde pre-empted a question with an answer.
The couple was sharing a hotel room while attending the real estate company's annual conference.
Many of the details of Daniels's version of events differed from Rohde's version. Daniels said Susan was naked‚ while Rohde maintains that she was covered in a robe.
Daniels also stated he saw Susan lying on the floor after he opened the door with a screwdriver and that the door opened easily until it was stopped by Susan's body‚ since her head was facing the door.
But, Rohde maintained that she was hanging behind the door and that he opened the door which was immediately jammed by her body.
When Rohde insisted he was telling the truth‚ Van Niekerk reminded him of his infidelity and of how he had lied to Susan about having an affair.
“Huh‚ you're telling the truth ... Like you did all that time with Susan when you were having an affair‚” he said. “You lie because when you're in a tight spot‚ you don't like confrontation.”
Rohde replied that “being an adulterer doesn't mean you're a murderer”.
The cross examination ended with an early adjournment. The case will continue on Tuesday when Perumal and Rohde’s defence advocate, Graham van der Spuy, are expected to explain the discrepancies surrounding the way in which Susan was found.