Almost three years after he was found guilty of having murdered his wife, former Lew Geffen Sotheby’s chief executive Jason Rohde still maintains he didn’t do it. But even if he did, his legal team says he didn’t mean to – and that he doesn’t deserve the 20 years in prison he got for the crime.
Rohde’s legal team appeared before the Supreme Court of Appeal yesterday to try and overturn both his conviction and his sentence.
In July 2016, Susan Rohde was discovered dead in the bathroom of a suite she and her husband – who shared three then teenage daughters – were staying in at the Spier Hotel near Stellenbosch. Rohde has always insisted Susan took her own life after learning he had rekindled an old affair.
But in November 2018, Western Cape High Court Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe found the two had in fact gotten into a “wrestling match” during which Rohde manually strangled her.
Rohde’s counsel, William King SC, yesterday argued that even if his client was guilty, though, the issue at the heart of their discord was a historical one and “ripe to explode”. “It was a killing that happened during an altercation and because of the heightened emotions and the previous alterations that had taken place,” he said.
He also argued the high court hadn’t properly considered the likelihood – or lack thereof – of Rohde reoffending and pointed to evidence from Susan’s own psychologist to the effect that he was “a good, kind person, never violent”.
“His character was quite clearly a non-violent character, this was not a man you would ever suspect of murdering, causing harm, beating or doing anything bad to a woman or anybody,” King insisted.
In arguing against his conviction, Rohde’s legal team has claimed, among others, that the crime scene was compromised and the evidence tendered by the state pathologists, unreliable.
But the state has described Rohde’s version of events as “contrived” and an “invented tale” and Susan as “a determined and courageous woman, also a devoted mother”. Its argument is that she wouldn’t have “suddenly abandoned” her children and that her life “did not revolve around Jason”.
Senior state advocate Louis van Niekerk yesterday accepted that it was impossible to predict with certainty whether someone would commit suicide. But he said the evidence in this case “paints a picture that one can’t move away from”.