Experts clash on whether or not Susan Rohde died slowly
Defence argues that evidence proves she did hang herself
Stools and urine could be key to establishing whether property mogul Jason Rohde’s wife, Susan, was killed before she was hanged behind a locked bathroom door.
Rohde’s trial in the Cape Town High Court resumed on Monday. It was the 53rd day of the trial of the former chief executive of Lew Geffen/Sotheby’s to answer charges that he murdered his wife after she caught him cheating with a colleague.
Rohde’s defence expert, forensic pathologist Dr Izak Loftus, butted heads with the prosecution on whether Susan died from hanging or whether she was killed prior to being hanged.
Most of Loftus’s testimony – and cross-examination – revolved around whether people who hang themselves pass faeces and urine when they die. Loftus sought to persuade the court to go with his version.“I am convinced that the deceased did not die instantaneously,” said Loftus. “The deceased is hanging; she hasn’t passed urine or faeces because she is still alive. She is hanging from the door [and then] she is laid down. In the process she is resuscitated [and] ultimately passes away. She inters the stage of somatic death. The sphincter relaxes and releases urine, she passes stools.”
Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe asked Loftus if urine and faeces were a definitive indicator of when a person died.
“It is not definitive; it is a common scenario,” Loftus responded.
“We are not looking at normal bowel movement. It is such a common occurrence.”
But prosecutor Loius van Niekerk was sceptical of Loftus’s evidence. He said he was not present when the autopsy was performed and that he relied on pictures – some of which were unclear.
Van Niekerk also questioned why Rohde did not hear any noises coming from the bathroom when Susan hanged herself.
“So you have to be careful and circumspect in looking at the evidence presented to court … to come to definite conclusions,” said Van Niekerk. “Do you agree with that?”Loftus replied: “No, I don’t agree with that. There is a difference between findings and interpretation. Regarding to the question [about] the noise, it is difficult to answer that question because it will depend on whether any part of the body was in contact with the door … convulsion by itself doesn’t cause any noise.”
Rohde is accused of killing his wife, Susan. The couple had three daughters and had been married for more than 20 years.
The state is convinced that he killed her 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 assaulted Susan 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 finding out five months earlier that he was having an affair with Cape Town estate agent Jolene Alerskye.
Loftus said the rib fractures could have been caused by CPR. Rohde’s former colleague, Mark Thompson, testified last year that him and Rohde performed CPR on Susan when he arrived at the scene.
The trial continues.