Rohde’s lawyers adamant key state witness was coached

15 March 2018 - 20:02
By Philani Nombembe
Murder accused property mogul Jason Rohde. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander Murder accused property mogul Jason Rohde. File photo.

Murder accused Jason Rohde’s lawyers were adamant on Thursday that the state’s key witness had been coached and even obtained footage of him having lunch with his boss in a restaurant near the court.

Rohde’s advocate‚ Graham van der Spuy‚ told the High Court in Cape Town that Spier wine estate handyman Desmond Daniel seemed to have been told what to say. Daniel‚ 62‚ previously testified that he was the first person to see Rohde’s wife‚ Susan’s body.

In a statement he gave to the police after the incident‚ Daniels said he had seen Rohde performing a CPR on his wife in the bathroom of the room they shared at Spier on July 24‚ 2016. But in the witness box he said he did not witness that.

Throughout his testimony‚ Daniels used the phrases “no comment” and “no explanation” when faced with tough questions – which irritated Van der Spuy. Van der Spuy told the court that he wanted to test Daniels’ credibility because his testimony was peppered with inconsistencies.

He asked Daniels if he had been to the Rcaffe‚ a restaurant in Long Street‚ during the lunch break on Wednesday and whether he had shared a meal with Joep Schoof‚ the general manager of Spier.

Daniels denied that even after Van der Spuy confronted him with a picture from the restaurant’s CCTV footage showing the two tucking into a meal. “You see that photograph‚ large as life. Who is sitting there?” Van der Spuy asked. Daniels responded: “A person.” An impatient Van der Spuy warned Daniels that lying under oath was a crime.

“You go yesterday and have lunch with the general manager of Spier‚ you get into the witness box and lie about it. You keep looking for Mr Schoof in court and that makes me wonder why are you hiding that you had lunch with him. And you were possibly with someone else from a law firm‚” said Van der Spuy.

“It is clear to me that this witness has been coached. It will be clear to me that the witness’s story has evolved over time.”

Van der Spuy and Judge Gaayat Salie-Hlophe had a heated exchange when the judge disapproved of his line of questioning.

“The court seems intent on helping this witness every step of the way. I must place my objection on record…that the court is interfering with my rights as legal representative‚” said Van der Spuy.

Salie-Hlophe said: “I don’t appreciate your tone and body language.”

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 door.

Rohde is charged with murder and obstructing the administration of justice by making her death look like a suicide. They have three daughters.

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 matter was postponed to Monday.