Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe was calm and measured as she read out her reasoning for sentencing Lew Geffen Sotheby’s former CEO, Jason Rohde, for the murder of his wife Susan.
Calling Rohde “selfish and self-serving”, Salie-Hlophe listed the damage the death of Susan had done to Rohde’s own children and described her as being a caring person who clearly loved her family before handing down a sentence of effectively 20 years imprisonment.
Rodhe was given 18 years for count one of murder, and five further years on count two of defeating the ends of justice. Three years of the second count was ordered to run concurrently with the murder charge, giving Rohde an effective 20 years behind bars.
The sentence was handed down despite the fact that his mother and friends testified in mitigation of sentence and pleaded with the court for a “fair sentence” for the sake of his children. During the sentencing arguments, Rohde’s lawyers had argued that as a wealthy person, imprisonment would be far worse than it would be for others of less wealth – an argument Salie-Hlophe described as being a “preposterous and non-sensical position” and said we all were to be treated equally in the face of the law.
Handing down the sentence, Judge Salie-Hlophe said: “The death and loss of such a remarkable person, a daughter, a mother, a sister, a friend, is itself a traumatic experience. By blaming her for demising circumstances where you have murdered her, added insulting injury. You sought to tarnish her legacy and by simulating her death as a suicide, you left her loved ones to further suffer in their grief and speculate in anguish as to what motivated Susan in taking of her own life.
“You showcased her, Mr Rohde, regardless of the obligation you owed to protect her, you owed her body, you owed her dignity and her legacy. You committed this offence in a cruel and selfish pursuit to escape the letter of the rule and defeat the ends of justice.
“For the reason set out above, I’m satisfied that a sentence of long term imprisonment is called for in these circumstances. Accordingly, Mr Rohde, on count one, you are sentenced to 18 years direct imprisonment. Turn into count two, which is also a serious crime, you are sentenced to five years of direct imprisonment. It is ordered that in terms of section 280 of the criminal procedure act, the three years of the five years imposed on count two shall run concurrently with that imposed on count one.”
Salie-Hlophe also described how South Africa had become the “femicide capital of the world” and said that it was the duty of the court to contribute so as to impose an appropriate sentence lest the community lose faith in the justice system.
“Murder committed by a man on a woman should not be treated lightly,” Salie-Hlophe said, insisting that in this case, it was important that the sentence be not only rehabilitative, but also a deterrent. She explained the murder was particularly abhorrent as Susan had clearly looked to Jason for protection and love.
Salie-Hlophe explained Rohde’s actions following the death were purely in his own interest and that in trying to avoid punishment for his crimes, he treated his wife as an object, and literally stripped her of her dignity. She added that his claims that he was unable to grieve as he was being forced to “fight for his life” reinforced the court’s opinions that his primary object of concern was himself.
Rohde was arrested shortly after the body of Susan was found on July 24, 2016, with an electric cord wrapped around her neck, hanging from a hook behind the bathroom door of the room the couple shared at the Spier Wine Estate hotel in Stellenbosch.
In November last year, Western Cape High Court Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe found Rohde guilty of murder and obstructing the ends of justice by staging her suicide.
On February 18, the sentencing proceedings of Rohde resumed after the trial adjourned on December 6.
On February 20, both parties, defence advocate Graham van der Spuy and State prosecutor Louis van Niekerk presented their final arguments.
Additional reporting by ANA / The Citizen