Rohde girls speak out as court spurns ‘bizarre’ prosecution ploy
Three daughters 'see themselves as being alone, and they believe they need their father'
A prosecution attempt to hand in six photographs of Susan Rohde taken hours before she was murdered by her husband was defeated in the high court in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Advocate Graham van der Spuy, defending Jason Rohde, said the ploy by prosecutor Louis van Niekerk, was “bizarre” and “beyond the pale”.
Van Niekerk attempted to give the pictures to Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe after calling three witnesses who testified in aggravation of sentence for Rohde.
The former property company head, who had been having an affair with one of his estate agents, was convicted on November 8 of murdering Susan in their hotel room at Spier in Stellenbosch.
Van Niekerk said the photos were taken by other people attending a Lew Geffen/Sotheby’s International Realty conference. They showed Susan in the midst of other people whose faces had been blurred out.
Referring to photographs from the crime scene and postmortem examinations, Van Niekerk said Susan had been portrayed in court “as a corpse”, adding: “We haven’t seen her in real life.”
But Van der Spuy said: “The purpose is nothing other than sensationalism. They contribute nothing to this case, and the photographs are so bizarrely presented when one sees them in the context of someone who was attending a party, obviously in a group, and everybody else blacked out around her.
“I think this is beyond the pale. It’s only got one thing in mind and that is publicity and sensationalism. It’s to no one’s credit that these things get published. Maybe the court should look at them and see how bizarre these photos are.”
Salie-Hlophe told Van Niekerk she would like to see a range of photos depicting Susan’s life.
“I would really like to honour Mrs Rohde, and if you’re going to place photos before the court to show the person she was, I think you should apply your mind to that.”
The prosecutor said he would table an album of photographs on Thursday that provided a rounded picture of Susan’s life.
The exchange ended a day of testimony delayed for almost three hours by a round of loadshedding, which plunged the court into darkness at 10am.
Rohde had arrived in the dock in handcuffs and wearing running shoes after being brought to court from Pollsmoor Prison, in Tokai, where he has been held for the past four weeks.
Social worker Rian Perry, who wrote a victim-impact report, told the court Rohde’s three daughters were standing by their father.
Katie, 20, and twins Alex and Josie, 18, were torn between grieving for their mother, Susan, and fearing the loss of their father, he said.
Katie is the only daughter likely to give evidence on Thursday in mitigation of her father’s sentence, but Van Niekerk said she would apply for permission to testify in camera.
Perry said he interviewed Alex and Josie on November 26 after they completed writing matric exams at Diocesan College for Girls in Grahamstown, where they were boarders.
“Alex said she was close with her mother and had a playful relationship, often teasing and joking with each other,” he said.
“Josie said she had a close-knit relationship with her mother, and they used to talk on a daily basis. Josie was emotional during the interview and found it difficult to verbalise her feelings.”
Both considered Susan their “main parent” before her death, they said, and afterwards Jason took on that role.
“Alex shared her feelings, and although she was emotional she could voice her opinion. She said their lives had been turned upside down. Their mother was the core of their family,” said Perry, adding Alex had said she felt as if she was living in a bad dream after learning about Susan’s death.
“As they started to face the reality, their father was arrested, and since then their lives and emotions had been made unstable,” said Perry.
“She believes they should have been dealing with their mother’s death, although it has been made impossible for them.”
Perry said Alex told him she often had to stop herself thinking about her mother. She had tried counselling but stopped because it was not helpful.
“She said she tried to focus on work and sport at school. She was able to maintain good academic marks,” but media reports about her mother’s death and father’s trial had “bothered” her because she felt journalists were “going after sensation”.
Josie “clearly found it difficult” to talk about the effect her mother’s death had had on her, said Perry, and she became tearful. She told him “all aspects” of her life had been affected, including her thoughts and feelings about her family.
She had not been able to deal with losing her mother, and had tried therapy but stopped when she “found no change in her problematic thinking”.
“[Both girls] have remained aware of the ongoing struggle within both sides of family,” said Perry, with their maternal grandparents grieving Susan while Rohde’s parents were mainly concerned about their son.
“[The twins] do not think either side can fully support the three of them or replace either of their parents,” said Perry. “Both of them found it hard to talk about sentencing because they do not want to lose their father. They know what could happen.
“The girls believe that if their father is jailed it will have a significant effect on them, and they ask the court to evaluate the consequences on the three of them.
“They see themselves as being alone, and they believe they need their father. They found it difficult to accept the reality of their father’s conviction.”
Perry said Katie had been reluctant to meet him. “She admitted that she felt my report was probably going to be used against her father,” he said. “She indicated to me that she wants to assist her father.”
Earlier, the court heard Susan’s estate had paid R2.9m to Jason to fund his defence. Estate administrator David Anderson said only R80,000 in cash was still available for distribution.
He said Susan’s mother, Diane Holmes, had offered to lend the estate R500,000 so it could continue to fund the education and maintenance of the couple’s daughters.
Anderson said annual expenses for the twins – both of whom have been accepted for studies at the University of Stellenbosch in 2019 – and Katie were expected to be about R250,000 a year each.
He told the court a Liberty Life insurance policy, which named Rohde as the beneficiary, was expected to pay out R2.6m and that when that amount reached the estate the financial pressure it was facing would ease.