Conflicting autopsy reports show different causes for Susan Rohde’s death
Cape Town – The battle between two pathologists in Jason Rohde’s murder trial heated up in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday after their autopsy reports for his wife showed stark differences.
The State’s forensic pathologist, Dr Asmal Khan, concluded that Susan died as a result of a lack of oxygen after manual strangulation and smothering.
He testified about her injuries as the State’s second witness on Thursday.
Graphic photos from the post-mortem exam were used to show these injuries to Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.
Part of his testimony included that Rohde "staged her suicide" but allegedly got it wrong because he did not know what he was doing.
Dr Reggie Perumal did a second autopsy at Rohde’s request more than a week after her death.
His report suggested her injuries were consistent with ligature strangulation.
The history he provided was that she had hung herself with an electric cord. This was in line with Rohde’s version that he found Susan’s body hanging from the bathroom door of the hotel room at Spier Wine Estate on July 24, 2016.
Rohde has pleaded not guilty to killing her and defeating/obstructing the ends of justice by staging a suicide and supplying false information to police.
Perumal furiously took notes in court but had yet to testify.
Battered Woman Syndrome
Khan ripped into Perumal’s report as he read it out loud.
He highlighted and gave examples of why some sections were "deliberately misleading", incomplete, alleged, unattributed, vague or left open to interpretation.
Khan had recommended police investigate a possible homicide after noting “odd” blood stains in the room, scratches on her face, and blunt force trauma injuries which suggested a physical altercation.
Her healing bruises, dated to a week before her death, and fresh injuries made him think of continuous and prolonged abuse over time as with Battered Woman Syndrome.
He found injuries to suggest she was punched in the face, her neck squeezed with a hand, a hand or object placed over her nose and mouth, her chest or ribs kicked, punched or kneed, and the back of her head pushed against a surface.
There were signs of a physical altercation before strangulation which lasted more than a few minutes, and could have lasted up to an hour, he said.
Blood was found in her stomach and small intestine.
No mention of defensive injuries
Khan thought she might have coughed up blood and then swallowed it.
Abrasions on the top of her feet and body indicated she had been dragged, he said.
He recalled the hotel’s bedroom floor was quite rough.
Turning to Perumal’s report, he said his chief findings left out very important information.
He did not mention Susan’s defensive injuries, the fracture to her thyroid cartilage, nor the blood found in the stomach and intestines, said Khan.
"What type of autopsy did he perform if he didn't check [for blood]?" he asked.
Perumal’s report listed abrasions but did not state whether they were caused by a ligature, fingernails or manual strangulation.
Khan said he also failed to give a cause for the fracture of three ribs on the right and associated haemorrhages caused before death.
His testimony would continue when the trial resumed on Monday.
The defence indicated it would need quite a few days to take instructions from Rohde and consult with experts before it could cross-examine Khan.