The pathologist who conducted a second autopsy on Susan Rohde, at the request of her husband’s legal team, omitted or missed vital information that pointed to manual strangulation, the Western Cape High Court heard on Wednesday

In the witness stand was Dr Deidre Abrahams, the Western Cape government’s chief of forensic pathology based in Paarl.

Abrahams effectively tore to shreds the report of KwaZulu-Natal pathologist Dr Reggie Perumal, who conducted the second autopsy on Susan’s body.

She said Perumal’s report mentioned the history of the case at the time, that she had hung herself, before he even conducted the autopsy.

“It may be an alleged history but not a factually proven history,” she said.

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Initially, Susan’s death was treated as a suicide. However, the investigation was later changed to a murder and her husband, Jason Rohde was arrested. He is currently on trial.

Abrahams testified that Perumal had not even commented on scratches on Susan’s face and she accused him of missing a contusion found on Susan’s lungs.

The State interprets the contusion as consistent with blunt force trauma before death.

Abrahams had conducted at least 9 000 autopsies before taking up her current position.

First autopsy

The witness observed State pathologist, Dr Akmal Coetzee-Khan – who was her junior – when he conducted the first autopsy on Susan’s body in Paarl on 26 July 2016.

She was present because Coetzee-Khan had contacted her on the day he was called out to Spier Wine Estate, where Susan’s body was found on 24 July 2016.

He told her that he had found what he considered to be anomalies regarding the claim of a suspected suicide, the court heard.

These ranged from marks on Susan’s body, to the manner in which the bathroom door in their suite had been locked.

Abrahams said she checked Coetzee-Khan’s autopsy report.

She commented on each finding for Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe.

At times she referred to close-up photographs of Susan’s autopsy, projected onto a wall behind the dock.

Jason moved to a chair near the witness box, to accommodate the slide show, and turned his head away from the pictures.

“Consistent with ligature strangulation”

Perumal recorded the cause of death as “consistent with ligature strangulation”.

Coetzee-Khan recorded the cause of death as “unnatural; consistent [with] asphyxia following manual strangulation and external airway obstruction”.

Coetzee-Khan and Abrahams believe the ligature referred to was applied after Susan’s death.

She claimed that Dr Reggie Perumal left out, missed, or misinterpreted many aspects when he conducted the private autopsy at Doves in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, that she wondered whether he had been negligent.

Coetzee-Khan made similar remarks during his cross-examination.

Abrahams’ testimony came after that of Coetzee-Khan, who was subjected to a lengthy period of cross examination.

He stood down on Wednesday morning.

Rohde’s defence lawyer advocate Graham van der Spuy had told Coezee-Khan that he may face legal action over his claims.

The Rohdes had been at the annual Sotheby’s conference where Jason had delivered a speech in his as CEO of Geffen International Realty Franchises.

He no longer occupies that position.

Jolene Alterskye, the estate agent with whom he was having an affair, was also at the conference.

The Rohdes had an argument over Alterskye, which spilled out into the pathways of the wine estate, hours before Susan was found dead.

Susan’s body was later found in the bathroom of their suite. By 09:08 that morning, she was certified dead.

Abrahams is to continue her testimony on Thursday.