Pathologist got it wrong, says Rohde's hired man
Court hears another view of how Susan died. In this one, her husband is innocent
Murder accused businessman Jason Rohde unleashed the hound of doubt on Wednesday in the form of private forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal.
Perumal, who has done more than 10,000 postmortem examinations and became the country’s first private forensic pathologist in 1994, started deconstructing the state’s postmortem report in the High Court in Cape Town.
His testimony countered the findings of two state pathologists who conducted the first autopsy of Susan Rohde’s body shortly after her death on July 24 2016.
State pathologist Akmal Coetzee-Khan testified that Susan was strangled and smothered to death. He also said she had swallowed significant quantities of blood, which probably originated from contusions in her lungs, the result of blunt-force trauma to her chest as indicated by broken ribs.Rohde has pleaded not guilty to murdering Susan after a lengthy verbal and physical argument at the Spier wine estate, near Stellenbosch, and to defeating the ends of justice by rigging the scene to make it look as if she committed suicide.
He has testified that the argument arose from Susan finding out he was still romantically involved with his Cape Town mistress, estate agent Jolene Alterskye. Both women were at the Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty annual conference at Spier, which Rohde hosted as the CEO of the company.
The businessman and father of three claims Susan was so upset that she hanged herself behind the bathroom door in the Spier hotel room which the couple shared.
From the outset of the trial, which started last year, Rohde’s defence team has attacked the findings of the autopsy in its attempt to prove Rohde’s claims and refute the state’s case.
Although Coetzee-Khan’s findings were backed up by state pathologist Deirdre Abrahams, who was present during the autopsy, the defence referred to an extensive list of medical literature and even questioned whether Coetzee-Khan was fit to testify by claiming he had problems with long-term memory.Both Coetzee-Khan and Abrahams, however, had harsh opinions of Perumal’s appearance in Rohde’s defence team, with Abrahams calling him a “hired gun” and Coetzee-Khan saying he was deliberately misleading the court by not finding that Susan was manually strangled.
Perumal was a member of Oscar Pistorius’s defence team during his murder trial in Pretoria, and appeared as a witness at the Farlam Commission into the Marikana massacre.
He told Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe on Wednesday that, according to his postmortem examination, Susan hanged herself with the cord of a hair iron, and that this was consistent with ligature abrasions around her neck.
But crucially he said that there was no fracture of the hyoid bone. “I took it as an exhibit for a radiology scan in Durban. We subjected it to an X-ray. The result was that it was entirely intact,” he said.A fractured hyoid bone is consistent with manual strangulation, as pressure from a killer’s thumbs is usually applied to the area around the throat where it lies between the jaw and the larynx.
When Abrahams testified, she said fractured ribs causing a lung abrasion would have caused such debilitating pain that Susan would have been unable to defend herself from attack. The postmortem report also indicated various other bruises and wounds.
After her testimony, Rohde’s then-advocate Pete Mihalik laid out a version of events in the hours leading up to Susan’s death in which Rohde unintentionally made contact with Susan multiple times, saying at one point she fell on her chest onto a small garden wall.
But Perumal testified that the abrasions and fracturing were caused by a rigorous CPR procedure either while Susan was dying or after her death.
The case was postponed until Thursday, when Perumal is expected to complete his testimony.