Property magnate and former Lew Geffen/Sothebys CEO Jason Rohde was found guilty of murdering his wife on Thursday at the Cape Town high court.
His bail was withdrawn and he will be held in custody.
Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe read an executive summary of the 258-page judgment on the case.
The judge was convinced by the state’s argument that Susan Rohde was murdered by her husband, and the defence was ultimately unsuccessful in their attempts to convince the court her death was in fact a suicide.
The former CEO had been adamant that, rather than being murdered, his wife committed suicide after finding out about an extramarital affair he had been having with his colleague Jolene Alterskye.
“In the absence of an intruder, did the deceased take her life or was she murdered by the accused? Was it suicide or murder?” was the judge’s summary of the question the court was expected to answer.
Salie-Hlophe mentioned that Jason’s colleague Mark Thompson, who had attempted to resuscitate Susan on the morning her body was discovered, had given testimony that gave the impression early on that Susan’s death may not have been a suicide.
She also mentioned that Susan Rohde had not been depressed leading up to her suicide, noting a lack of “suicidal tendencies”.
Elsewhere, she mentioned having “a number of difficulties with the account of the accused, noting that his testimony was given with “studied precision” and that he wasn’t a “compelling witness”.
She noted a large amount of physical evidence that led her to believe the hanging was staged and that Susan Rohde’s death was murder, as well as what she described as inconsistencies in evidence given by both Rohde himself and witnesses for his defence.
“By all accounts, a scuffle occurred on the bed,” Salie Hlophe noted, adding that the accused had become a “physical threat” to his wife on the weekend of her death, meaning that the defence’s assertion that he had not been known to be a “physical threat” prior to this held no weight.
The judge, having seen the evidence, believes the couple fought in bed, leading to Rohde strangling the deceased with a pillow, before coming up with a plan to make it look like suicide.
The judge also questioned why Rohde didn’t call for help after realising the bathroom was locked, asking why he remained locked in the bedroom while she was in the bathroom and he didn’t try to get her attention from outside.
On Wednesday, Rohde’s defence advocate Graham van der Spuy presented his closing arguments.
He argued that state pathologist and crime scene expert reports into the death of Susan Rohde at a Stellenbosch hotel allegedly contradicted each other.
Susan’s body had been found with an electronic cord wrapped around her neck hanging from a hook behind the bathroom door of the room she shared with her husband on July 24, 2016, at the Spier Wine Estate Hotel.
State forensic pathologist Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan performed the first autopsy on Susan’s body and concluded she was murdered.
Van der Spuy told the court he suspected state advocate Louis van Niekerk was trying to suggest malice because when forensic crime scene expert and blood spatter analyst Captain Marius Joubert examined the deceased, he reported the bathrobe she was dressed in was turned inside out. The defence argued that this was never confirmed by the pathologist.
Van der Spuy said: “Dr Khan was never asked what the position was with regards to her gown. But what we do know is that nowhere in Dr Khan’s report that he mentioned having found the deceased to be clothed with her dressing gown with bathrobe inside out.
“The point that was raised several times by my learned friend [Van Niekerk], and I suspect that he is attempting to riddle into his case the suggestion of something sinister involved in the fact that when Captain Joubert examined the deceased on Sunday the 24th of July, 2016, that her bathrobe was inside out. He mentioned that a few times.
“And I think that he is trying to link that up, I suspect, with the allegation that the accused, for whatever reason, put the dressing gown on her after Mr Daniels had left the scene.”
Desmond Daniels is the handyman who opened the locked bathroom door behind which Susan’s body was discovered. When Van der Spuy cross-examined Daniels, the handyman claimed Rohde had changed the position of the cord after he left the scene.
The Citizen & African News Agency (ANA)