Rohde trial: Was Susan still alive when found behind bathroom door?

Whether Susan Rohde was dead or alive when she was found hanging behind the bathroom door of a hotel room was a question debated in the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

Dr Izak Loftus, the second forensic pathologist for Jason Rohde's defence team, testified that he believed that Susan had died on the bathroom floor of her and her husband's hotel room at Spier in July 2016.

Pointing to one of the photos from the scene, he said that liquid on the tile floor near the body was her urine.

He said bowel and bladder evacuation was common at the time of death.

"This is where the deceased passed away."

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Loftus said that, while he was not a faecal or spatter expert, he believed that faeces-like marks found next to the body, at the entrance to the bathroom door and at the entrance to the hotel room could be attributed to contamination of the scene.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Louis van Niekerk said he believed Susan was already dead by the time she was on the floor.

"The State will argue that Susan was already dead when CPR was started by the accused, and thereafter joined by Mr Thompson."

He said he believed there would have been a period of up to 26 minutes from 8:00 when she was hanging behind the door, partially suspended, before the door was opened.

Loftus said people who hanged themselves could die "almost instantaneously" or take a longer time to die, depending on what happened.

"I am quite sure that ultimately the deceased died there on the floor, when she entered somatic death. Until that, she was most probably still alive. She wasn't dead within seconds or so."

'It doesn't fit in'

Van Niekerk said: "If we accept that as the mechanism of death, would you agree there would've been some convulsion, some noise made by the body that would have been heard against the door?"

Loftus replied that there may not have been noise, unless the deceased knocked something over or kicked against the door during the convulsion. He could not exclude the possibility of noise.

Van Niekerk questioned why no faeces had been found on the back of the door or her gown.

Loftus said: "If she died behind the door, that is where I would expect urine and faeces to be deposited. That would explain [why] the deceased was most probably still alive when the accused entered the room."

He added that he would have been concerned if faeces were found on the gown, "because that means she passed it while she was hanging".

Van Niekerk put it to Loftus that he had failed to take all the evidence into account, specifically the possibility that the death was staged, and that Susan had not committed suicide.

Loftus disagreed and said he had seen signs that were consistent with a ligature being applied to her neck while she was still alive.

"It doesn't fit in, the scenario, to me of a staged strangulation or hanging."

The trial continues on Tuesday.