Jason Rohde back in dock as wife-murder trial resumes

05 February 2018 - 06:00
By Philani Nombembe
Jason Rohde is accused of murdering his wife Susan Rohde at the Spier Wine Estate. File photo.
Image: Anthony Molyneaux Jason Rohde is accused of murdering his wife Susan Rohde at the Spier Wine Estate. File photo.

Murder accused Jason Rohde returns to court on Monday almost two months after WhatsApp messages handed in as evidence exposed his two-timing lifestyle.

The Johannesburg businessman’s trial resumes in the High Court in Cape Town after a two-month break‚ during which Rohde’s bail conditions were amended to allow him to spend time in Plettenberg Bay‚ where he has a home.

Rohde is charged with murdering his wife‚ Susan‚ and obstructing the administration of justice by making her death look like a suicide. They have three daughters.

Daniel Witz‚ one of the lawyers engaged by the former estate agency head‚ told TimesLIVE that Rohde’s legal team — consisting of four advocates and an attorney — was confident of its case.

“Yes‚ definitely‚” said Witz. “Our client still [maintains his innocence] and intends to go through to the end of the trial. He is OK. He is holding up as much as he can.”

Witz said the state has about 78 witnesses. Several — including two pathologists who conducted the postmortem‚ a pastor and Rohde’s brother-in-law — have already testified.

“The state is expecting to call another four or five witnesses at the commencement of the trial. Whether they will call more‚ they will let us know‚” said Witz. “We have to wait for the state to finish their witnesses to see who it is necessary to call.”

The former Lew Geffen/Sotherby’s International Realty chief executive was sharing a room with his wife at Spier wine estate‚ near Stellenbosch‚ in July 2016 when she was found dead with the cord of a hair iron around her neck behind the locked bathroom door.

The indictment against Rohde accuses him of placing the cord around Susan’s neck “in a double strand around the clothing/towel hook at the back of the bathroom door”. He then supplied false information to police‚ it says.

“The postmortem examination conducted on the body of the deceased shows the cause of death as consistent with asphyxia following manual strangulation and external airway obstruction‚” says the indictment.

“The features of the ligature imprint abrasion mark are consistent with postmortem application to the neck.”

Before the beginning of the trial‚ Witz said they would fight the case based on forensic evidence‚ adding that prosecution allegations of an argument over an affair between Rohde and Cape Town estate agent Jolene Alterskye were circumstantial.

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“Our view is that the most important aspect of this case is the forensic evidence‚ and unless the state can overcome the forensic evidence then all the surrounding circumstances are not as relevant as the state currently thinks they are‚” he said.

WhatsApp messages handed into court as evidence told a story of Rohde’s love for Alterskye and his patchy relationship with his wife. Many of the messages were exchanged within the last 24 hours of Susan’s life.

Shortly before 9am‚ Rohde told Alterskye: “Cause I’m frustrated that I can’t be with you who I want. U still love me?”

An hour later he WhatsApped: “This weekend make me realise just how much I don’t want to be with Sue anymore. All I can think of is you. I want to scream with frustration. I don’t want anything anymore in my life than to be with you.”

Alterskye replied: “My penguin forever.”