5 Key Difficulties for Jason Rohde’s Defence [and they’re all unexpected]

  • Silent Suicide?

One of the biggest hurdles Graham van der Spuy has to overcome, is one of the most obvious. If Susan Rohde committed suicide while her husband Jason was sleeping, she had to have done so virtually without making a sound.

It’s easy to forget that hotel rooms basically include just two rooms, the bedroom and the bathroom. So if Susan was dying on the other side of the door, with her husband lying literally 2 metres away, she had to have committed suicide silently, or quietly enough so she didn’t wake him.

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The forensic evidence indicates Susan’s death involved unbearable pain. Even her tongue was bruised. The blood that poured into her lungs and stomach didn’t drain there without a world of accompanying hurt. What’s more, Susan coughed up and swallowed a lot of blood. Just in those descriptors – coughing and swallowing – we have clear indicators for physical noises. Spluttering sounds. Gagging. What’s more, where is the blood spatter from coughing up that blood?

If Jason Rohde is to be believed, his wife slung herself on the other side of the bathroom door, and took meticulous care not to make a noise, as if she was trying not to wake him  – either as she set up the hair iron, or with her own body as she suspended herself, or with the closing and locking of the door. This care and consideration was supposedly for a man who was cheating on her and about to divorce her. It doesn’t make sense.

  • Weight tolerance yes – but not of the door hook

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There’s been a lot of chatter about the load-bearing capacity of the door hooks. According to the head of the forensic engineering science lab at SAPS, Daniel Poolman, the electrical cord would have broken with any load heavier than 40kg. Susan weighed 52kg.

My understanding is that this means:

a) where the cord enters the bottom of the hair iron, there is an area of weakness, and it’s in this area that the cord would give way

b) Beyond a particular threshold, a loosely threaded hair iron would be dislodged from the rickety mooring that the hook itself presented, in terms of anchoring the hair iron

Personally I don’t like the weight threshold debate, because for almost every argument, there’s a counterargument. If one is arguing weight, the counterargument is that Susan wasn’t exerting her full weight on the cord. On the other hand, the force had to be sufficient to asphyxiate her.

It’s reasonable, however, to doubt that Jason’s version of hanging is even practically demonstrable or possible.

  • The Significance of the Penguin Message 

On July 23rd, the day before Susan’s death, Jason Rohde sent a number of compromising messages to his 37-year-old mistress, Jolene Alterskye.

At 10:02 he wrote: “This weekend made me realise just how much I don’t want to be with Sue anymore. All I can think of is you. I want to scream with frustration. I don’t want anything more in my life than to be with you.”

At 10:47.36 Jason wrote: “I absolutely hate it, I just want it to end.”

At 10:49 he said: “Having you close is driving me crazy. Sue is driving me nuts! She follows me around like a f*** shadow.”

At 22:02, hours before a huge row with his wife, and hours before her death, Alterskye wrote: “You my penguin forever.”

What is the likelihood that Susan Rohde discovered the “penguin forever” message? That’s not just a throwaway term of endearment, it’s got a permanence to it. These messages also indicate to what extent Jason, Susan and Jolene were all caught up “in the heat of the moment”.

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The fundamental psychology we get from Jason at this point is:

All I can think of is you. I want to scream with frustration. I don’t want anything more in my life than to be with you.

Breaking it down:

think, want, want. scream with frustration.

And breaking it down even further:

want. scream with frustration.

  • The Newcombe Hypothesis

In spite of Dr Peter’s testimony and assessment, Susan’s psychologist Jane Newcombe didn’t experience Susan as suicidal but rather primarily anxious. Susan was more anxious than depressed. That’s a subtle but important distinction to make.

Anxiety is about fear. Fear is a paralysing, passive response. Although Susan’s husband has been adamant that Susan was angry and confrontational, she was also anxious for much, if not most of the time. Checking phones, worrying, writing in her diary, struggling to sleep, these are all the silent struggles of an anxious mind.

Compare that to Jason:

I want to scream with frustration

Susan’s primary feeling is anxiety. Jason’s is frustration. Which lends itself more directly to anger? Anger is an activating response, one that in the heat of the moment can lead to murder. Anger, under these circumstances is less likely to devolve into suicide. Jason Rohde’s story is that Susan was extremely angry. That’s true, but so was he. Anger plays better into the psychology of murder, which is precisely why the “going to sleep” and the “silent suicide” narrative is a mismatch to the anger scenario. Anxious people are silent, angry people are not.

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  • “I can’t fight for three hours…I just don’t have the strength”

When Jason says he doesn’t have the strength to fight for three hours, I don’t think he means physical strength. He’s done the half Ironman, a race that takes the average individual 7 hours, and if you’re in very good shape, about 5 hours. Moreover, to do a race like that, one has to be fairly technically minded. There are transition areas, one must carry food and water with you, spare tubes in case of a puncture and so on. Even loading a triathlon bicycle onto the back of a car, or packing it for air travel, and unpacking it, requires a fair amount of technical knowledge. There are clip in shoes, and many gears to shift. Just the gear shifting suggests an appreciating for how things fit together and turn…

I also think Jason Rohde gives away quite a lot when he says he doesn’t [or didn’t] have the strength to fight with Susan for hours, meaning, he’d had enough of the physical and mental contest with her. He was done. He wanted the contest to be over. The strength he’s referring to, that he doesn’t have, is the patience and fortitude to endure his screaming frustration. What he does have, instead of that desire to spar, is a bristling anger to dispose of what is in his way.

I absolutely hate it, I just want it to end.

What do you think “it” means?

9 thoughts on “5 Key Difficulties for Jason Rohde’s Defence [and they’re all unexpected]

  1. I’m still unsure of whether I think it was suicide or murder. I thought he was guilty from the media coverage but listening to his testimony, I found him to be very level-headed and credible. Dr Perumal says she could have lost consciousness within 8 seconds so that could explain why he didn’t hear anything. I think he also had an explanation for the blood pooling? Which I think would tie in with his version and explain why there was no blood spatter. Also, I do believe someone can be angry and stay quiet. I haven’t heard any reports of him being violent or shouting at people in the past. I can be furious but stay quiet. And he probably was physically and mentally exhausted (it was early hours of the morning and he hadn’t had any sleep). I also think her counselor telling Dr Peters that she was so worried about her, she wanted to admit her to hospital is telling. In my opinion, she was not in her right mind and acting very out of character. I think one possibility is that she wanted to scare him into not leaving her and didn’t intend to actually die, but she lost consciousness and it was too late. It will be interesting to see if the defense have any success with the special application. My own interpretation of looking at her facebook profile is that she did want the world to think her life was perfect and she was a desperate woman. I’m not sure if he ever commented on her facebook posts photos (maybe they were deleted before I saw them) but it seemed like a one way street. She posted photos etc that would make one think they were madly in love, yet he never responded. A couple in love usually comment on or acknowledge each other’s posts. I think she was trying too hard and getting more and more desperate.

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  2. Also, I have never thought how to open a bathroom door from the outside so I think it’s highly possible it hadn’t crossed his mind. Even if you’re savvy with technical stuff, you could overlook that (especially if you’re in a bit of a panic)

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  3. I think Susan was anxious, afraid and angry…who wouldnt be in those circumstances? I dont think there is much evidence of severe depression, even the medication she was taking (Urbanol) is prescribed more for stress and anxiety than depression. The councillor who suggested hospitalisation could very well have been taking her overall mental desperation into consideration, not nrcessarily because she was suicidal. A very telling thing about Jason, is what he said to his brother in law…I am the CEO, I am the CEO. His reputation and image are very important to him and he shows very little empathy for the amount of pain he is causing his wife…its all about what he wants, what he can’t live without. In the altercation in the bedroom, if Susan had threatened to expose him and his mistress to all their colleagues attending the convention, he could very easily become so enraged that he silenced her.

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    • I respect your view but I have a different understanding of him saying “I’m the CEO”. It was in response to his brother-in-law asking why he went to Spier with her, and he was basically saying he didn’t have a choice. AS CEO he HAD to be there, he couldn’t have stayed at home. I think it would have been very strange for a CEO not to pitch at such an important conference.

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  4. Maybe, but I dont think so….she often threatened him and that is quite a “powerful” threat. It was for effectt, born of pain and aguish. Susan was so hurt and distraught that she sent 1000s of WA msgs, appealing to him, swearing at her, threatening so many things. The one thing that resonates, is that she never just “kept quiet” and sunk into despair. She was all action, phoning him, messaging both of them, flying to CT….whether it was ill adviised or not. Bottom line, in the world of flight or fight mechanisms, she became a fighter when she felt distraught. She went down fighting, she was not the type to give up.

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