Rohde questions police inquiry
Cape Town - Spier murder accused Jason Thomas Rohde brought his A game to the Stellenbosch Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, denying he played any role in the death of his wife, Susan.
In an unusual move, the Chief Executive Officer of Sotheby's International Reality, South Africa, laid bare his defence to the court. Rohde has known for the last month he was a suspect in Susan’s murder and hired an investigation team, including two private investigators, a digital investigator and an independent pathologist, and a team of five lawyers to help him prove his claim he did not kill her.
The court heard the pathologist concluded Susan committed suicide because there was no “definitive fracture of the hyoid bone or the thyroid cornua” – an injury that usually occurred with manual strangulation.
The private investigation team also picked up “sloppy and inept” police work because the window of the bathroom where his wife’s body was found, had been left open and anybody could gain access to the crime scene. In addition, Rohde provided the State and the court with a report from a marriage counsellor expressing fears that Susan was a suicide risk and advising immediate counselling, and proof of her life policies excluded a payout in the event of suicide.
He told the court he had co-operated with the police from the day his wife was found dead, making himself available to investigators in Cape Town on three separate occasions, providing them with her cellphone and password, and handing over the Rohde family laptop and password.
Rohde’s wife was found dead in the bathroom of the unit they shared at Spier during a work-related conference at the wine estate on July 24.
He was apprehended at his Bryanston home on Tuesday and brought to Cape Town by car for his first court appearance. His legal team arrived at court yesterday ready to apply for his immediate release on bail.
Prosecutor Carine Teunissen requested a week-long postponement to determine the State’s position. She submitted there was a prima facie case against the accused, but said there were outstanding pieces of evidence which would determine if the alleged murder was premeditated. But Rohde’s legal team was adamant that the State had enough time to procure evidence and determine its attitude towards his application for bail.
Defence advocate Pete Mihalik said Susan Rohde’s death became a murder investigation three weeks ago and that the State had been provided with all his client’s personal information.
They had taken a DNA sample from him as well as his fingerprints, and were given access to electronic devices requested.
His cellphone was not requested until now even though police could ask for it before then, Mihalik said.
“They have more than any other prosecutor ever had because it’s been given to them,” he submitted.
The State could not just come to court after arresting his client and request time to look into their own case to determine whether or not to oppose his release on bail. “It’s offensive in the extreme,” he said.
Mihalik also pointed out that the police who arrested Rohde did not even have a warrant of arrest. Instead, seven police officers arrived at his home with a only letter
signed by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, despite an arrangement that he would hand himself over.
This, the court heard, was “an egregious violation” of Rohde’s Constitutional rights.
He intends to take further action.
The case continues on Friday when the investigating officer is expected to be called to shed light on the State’s attitude.