Suspicious findings from a Spier Hotel room and Susan Rohde’s body suggested a more sinister and calculated death than the suicide that her husband claimed he found, the Western Cape High Court heard on Thursday…
This version of events emerged as forensic pathologist Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan, the state’s second witness, testified in the murder trial of Jason Rohde.
Coetzee-Khan had dealt with close to 100 suicide hanging cases.
He visited the scene on July 24, 2016 and wrote an incident scene report.
He 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.
READ MORE: Colleague recalls details of crime scene
A photo of the hotel room showed it was in a messy state
A purple luggage bag lay open on the floor, the bed was unmade and there were red blotches in different areas.
“Usually if you have blunt force trauma in the form of a fist or punch, then sometimes you would get an abrasion from a ring on the finger,” he explained.
He was reminded of Battered Woman Syndrome, where beatings were continuous and over prolonged periods, after seeing the injuries of different ages.
The stains indicated her body may have been moved.
Coetzee-Khan wrote another report when he conducted a post-mortem exam two days later
Gruesome pictures of Susan’s body were projected on the wall.
Rohde, sitting in seat opposite the dock, turned sideways and seemed uncomfortable.
Coetzee-Khan detailed the various haemorrhages and injuries on Susan’s neck and concluded: “It is a staging of a hanging.”
Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe asked what he meant by staged
In reply, he said this was putting a ligature on after death and pressing into the skin to make it look like a hanging.
“Because you don’t how it is supposed to look, you get it wrong.”
He explained that friction abrasions were usually seen with an electric cord used for hanging.
The ligature mark the deceased had on her neck did not slope upward to the point of suspension as with hanging cases. It seemed to have been applied after death.
“In most hangings, one would also expect a mark much higher up.”
Coetzee-Khan conducted a bloodless neck dissection to check the marks in detail and confirm whether they were caused before or after death.
He found many haemorrhages were unrelated to the ligature
The left horn of the thyroid cartilage had been fractured.
This indicated “a hand being applied to the neck with a squeezing type of action”, consistent with manual strangulation.
Coetzee-Khan found it was possible to open the locked bathroom door from the outside.
He felt it prudent to have the bathroom hooks tested to see if they could hold Susan’s 52kg weight.
He said the pooling of blood in the body, which started around 30 minutes post-mortem, indicated she was lying on her back and not hanging when she died.
He estimated the time of death to be 05:40 on July 24, 2016.
The trial continues.
Rohde has pleaded not guilty to murder and defeating/obstructing the ends of justice by “staging” a suicide and providing police with false information.
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