How many times has Rohde's expert got it wrong?
Jason Rohde's forensic pathologist endures a scathing assault from the prosecution
The prosecution in the Jason Rohde murder trial is pulling out all stops to discredit the property mogul’s expert witness.
Prominent forensic pathologist Dr Reggie Perumal, who was hired by Oscar Pistorius during his murder trial, was cross-examined in the Cape Town High Court on Tuesday. Arguments centred around the tightness of the noose around Rohde’s wife Susan’s neck and whether it was consistent with suicide.
Perumal said if the cord had been added after death, it would have only made an imprint onto the skin without creating a leathery appearance.
“I do not think that somebody had been throttled ... it’s extremely unlikely ... The knot is not tight against the skin; the noose is loose, it’s not necessarily tight,” Perumal testified on Tuesday.
But Perumal’s credibility was soon questioned. Prosecutor Louis van Niekerk produced two past judgments that were critical of Perumal.A judgment delivered by the High Court in Durban in 2016 dismissed Perumal’s evidence as speculative. In that matter‚ motorist John Dauth, acting on Perumal’s advice, appealed against a drunk driving conviction in the Durban Magistrate’s Court.
Dauth‚ who received a R9‚000 fine suspended for five years‚ claimed the method used by the nursing sister who drew his blood was flawed. He said it excluded the possibility of contamination of the blood sample taken; and that the blood sample was stored under circumstances that would not prevent fermentation and “the subsequent production of alcohol by micro-organisms”‚ said the judgment.
“Dr Perumal confirmed that he is not a medical microbiologist. He is not registered as a microbiologist with the [Health Professions Council of South Africa].
“Under cross-examination‚ he conceded that he is not an expert in the field of microbiology‚ but that he merely based his experience in dealing with drunken-driving suspects when he was a district surgeon between 1983 and 1994. In short‚ his evidence on the expiry of the blood kit was based largely on speculation. He also seemed to be relying on instructions by [Dauth]‚ yet he is not a legal representative of any sort,” the Durban court’s judgement read.
The conviction was upheld. Asked about the court’s findings on Tuesday‚ Perumal maintained his stance on Dauth’s case. “It’s correct. I did not talk at all on the technical side of the analysis‚” said Perumal. “I used the information that was before the court.”
Van Niekerk also handed in another judgment critical of Perumal, and asked for an early adjournment to allow Perumal to study that ruling.
He was referring to a 2013 judgment in the Cape Town High Court where Perumal was the state’s expert witness. In the matter, 13 members of the Hawks were charged with murder after a suspect died in custody.
“The opinion of Dr Perumal about the presence of imprint abrasion on the chest which was caused by a R4 or R5 rifle proved not to be as convincing when it was shown to him that the R4 and R5 rifles which the accused had in their possession of the night in question could not have left such an imprint because of the surface of the rifle and size of the butt of the riffle which was much bigger,” the judgment reads.
“His reliance on the photographs taken at the postmortem examination from which he drew certain conclusions also proved to be problematic due to the quality of the photographs.”Van Niekerk asked Perumal to study the judgment “overnight” to prepare for cross-examination on Wednesday.
The prosecution is convinced Rohde‚ former CEO of Lew Geffen/Sotheby’s International Realty‚ killed his wife at a company conference at Spier‚ near Stellenbosch‚ in July 2016. She was found dead with the cord of a hair iron around her neck behind a locked bathroom door.
The postmortem examinations have taken centre stage in the trial. Based on its postmortem report‚ the state alleges Rohde beat Susan up and dealt debilitating blows to her left chest‚ causing several rib fractures‚ before smothering her with a pillow and faking her suicidal hanging. Susan insisted on attending the event as she was suspicious of Rohde after discovering five months earlier that he was having an affair with Cape Town estate agent Jolene Alerskye.