A specialist forensic psychiatrist hired by Jason Rohde questioned the evidence suggesting that his client had devised an elaborate ruse to make his wife Susan’s death look like a suicide and said it was, ironically, Susan “who had features typical of men who kill their partners”.
According to Dr Larissa Panieri-Peter, Rohde also had no risk factors for intimate partner homicide.
None of this evidence will carry any weight, however, after the Western Cape High Court dismissed her from the stand on Tuesday after repeated objections that started when she began her testimony on Monday.
Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe’s objections related to the witness overstepping her role, using anonymous sources and alleging certain facts, which she claimed were given to her by the Rohde’s marital counsellor and individual psychologists, “but which was not put to them during their evidence”.
The judge said Panieri-Peter’s 43-page report and testimony was nothing more than a regurgitation of testimonies already placed before this court.
Panieri-Peter had painted a picture of the whole case by laying out aspects of the testimonies of Rohde, family members and colleagues, the forensic pathologists and mental health professionals.
She also repeated testimony that had already been heard and tested on the Rohde’s personal backgrounds, marriage and events leading up to Susan’s death.
Salie-Hlophe said she was not given the report before Panieri-Peter started her testimony, and had only recently finished reading it.
Some wondered what was in the rest of the report handed up to court, as Panieri-Peter had only managed to read out half on Monday before being dismissed on Tuesday.
Her professional opinion in the document was that the “crescendo of events” involving the pain of Jason’s affair, discovering he was still seeing his mistress, and realising her marriage was over, “would have been enough, in the context of the previous months, for her to take her own life”.
She said the circumstances of the weekend at Spier had created a terrible humiliation and narcissistic wound to Susan, who had been married to Jason for 22 years.
The second half of the report focused on Rohde’s history, the information he had shared with Panieri-Peter in some 20 hours of interviews and his culpability.
Panieri-Peter said this case did not have “shades of grey” or a middleground between the possibilities of Susan committing suicide or her husband killing her.
“From the information I have available, the postulate would be that, if Mrs Rohde did not commit suicide, Mr Rohde must have killed her in a rage.”
‘Would have required considerable presence of mind’
She said, in this scenario, he would have had to have had the presence of mind to lock the bathroom door from the outside, phone the handyman to help open it, go “through the motions” of a resuscitation, and then persist with a fabricated story.
“All of this would have had to occur in a very short space of time, and would have required considerable presence of mind and a remarkably calculating approach.”
Offering her opinion as a medical practitioner, she said the information available suggested that Susan’s death had occurred “very soon before, if not during” resuscitation attempts.
“This would need to be commented on further by the appropriate pathologists.”
She said, while she was mindful that the ultimate decision rested with the court, from a “purely psychiatric point of view”, she found it “strange that Mr Rohde would not have waited longer before calling for help, or that he would not have rather left his wife and gone to give his presentation, before ‘finding her’ later, when she most certainly would have been dead”.
She also found it strange that he would not have cleaned up the bathroom more and why he would have left her naked, as handyman Desmond Daniels had claimed.
Her view was that Rohde was not “intellectually sophisticated” and this was apparently confirmed by his specialist psychiatrist.
“It would seem far more logical and consistent, if Mr Rohde were to have created an elaborate ruse around suicide, that he would have tried, repeatedly, to emphasise to me and others, including under cross-examination, that she had actually been suicidal all along and that he had also thought so, but that she refused to admit that.
“The impact of the media, of the rage at Mr Rohde, the context in which these events occur, cannot be underestimated in relation to memory, negative bias and the impact of the matter on all concerned.”
‘Compassion and sadness for her’
Besides finding no risk factors in Rohde for murder, she said no evidence to this effect was led in court, and no one she interviewed could think of any related behaviour.
“There was not a single person whom I interviewed who was able to provide any evidence for rage or emotional instability on the part of Mr Rohde… a number of people interviewed expressed shock at Mrs Rohde’s death but felt that, in retrospect, suicide could make sense. No one interviewed felt that, in retrospect, a murder made sense.”
Panieri-Peter stated: “Ironically, Mrs Rohde was the one who had the features typical of men who kill their partners.”
She said jealousy, stalking, trying to control someone’s movements, increased drinking, features of mental pain, depression and mental pain, and insecurity, were all associated with the risk of violence.
This was not meant as a criticism, “as I have an immense amount of compassion and sadness for her”.
Salie-Hlophe rejected Panieri-Peter’s report and testimony in their entirety.
She emphasised that it was the court’s role alone to determine whether Susan’s death was a suicide or homicide.
“Simply put, I perceive that this evidence and report by this witness is nothing more than an attempt by the defence to get a second bite at the cherry.”