'Susan suffered in silence' – judge in finding Jason Rohde guilty of wife's murder
Susan Rohde's "ill-fated discovery" of her husband's infidelity was followed by "harrowing" months of trauma and suffering leading up to her murder, the Western Cape High Court has said.
Jason Rohde was on Thursday found guilty of murder and obstruction of justice for the murder of his wife at Spier wine estate in July 2016.
The property mogul had arranged the scene of his wife's death to tell a story that she had committed suicide, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe said during her judgment.
MOMENT OF TRUTH: Jason Rohde found guilty of murder
Salie-Hlophe analysed the evidence given by lay and expert witnesses before painting a vivid picture of how Jason had murdered his wife at Spier wine estate in Stellenbosch and then staged her suicide.
It was Susan's discovery of her husband's infidelity that had been the catalyst for the horrifying events that took place.
"Susan's ill-fated discovery was followed by months of harrowing trauma. The emotional hallmarks of infidelity entwined [themselves] like creeping ivy into the lives of those affected," Salie-Hlophe said.
Accused, deceased 'lashed out' at each other
"Ever the perfectionist, Susan suffered in silence, but beneath her exterior she was struggling to cope with her emotions. She felt that her life had been turned upside down."
Although Jason claimed that he had ended the affair with estate agent Jolene Alterskye, Susan uncovered his lie at the wine estate while the couple was attending a conference and the two engaged in a vicious argument.
The very next morning, her body was found in their hotel bathroom.
"At 07:06 the deceased's sheer indignation of the events in the prior hours would have been inflamed by the flurry of exchanges between herself and Jolene," Salie-Hlophe held.
"Both the accused and the deceased would have lashed out at the other. The accused retorted that he wished to end the marriage. The evidence points to the inescapable inference that the wrestling match had now reignited."
The court inferred that Jason had struck his wife on the forehead, manually strangled her, smothered her with a pillow and then placed pressure on her chest.
Attempt to cover tracks
"When he got up, he devised a plan to tell the story of the deceased ending her own life. The accused must have dragged her from the bathroom, across the carpeting, causing the injury to her left arm and shoulder, leaving a faecal stain on the bathroom floor," the judge said, with reference to the State's pathology reports.
"He could not lift her up unaided and put the cord around her neck as she would have been too heavy. So, he had to lay her flat on the floor, wind the cord around her neck, retreated to the bedroom and locked the bathroom."
The plan was almost complete, but he still needed to cover his tracks. Jason then called reception to help him with the locked door at 08:22.
Thereafter, innocent bystanders started coming in, the first being maintenance worker Desmond Daniels who opened the door and made the horrifying discovery, Salie-Hlophe said.
When the handyman left, Jason took his plan further by trying to dress Susan in her bathrobe, but in his haste, he did not notice that the robe was inside-out and that the belt was still on the bed.
"He changed the cord at the back of the door to be more consistent with her being in a crouched position, he [put] the robe around his wife's body and changed the cord from which she had allegedly hanged herself – believing his account of the event would trump that of a handyman," Salie-Hlophe said.
She found that, beyond a reasonable doubt, Susan did not commit suicide and Jason had murdered her.
"This court is satisfied, taking into account the evidence before it, that the State has proven its case beyond reasonable doubt and that your version is not reasonably, possibly true and is accordingly rejected," she ruled.
"The court finds the accused murdered the deceased and then staged the scene to give the impression of a suicide."
Given the nature of the crime, Salie-Hlophe revoked Jason's bail and he was immediately taken into police custody following the judgment.
Pre-sentencing proceedings will begin on November 21.
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