Reasonable doubt, that’s all Rohde’s defence has to prove, and in one critical area, there is doubt. Before we deal with that, let’s look at another famous South African case that played out in the same area as Spier, to see how a criminal case can unravel.
In the Inge Lotz case, the trial turned on the alibi testimony of Fred van der Vyfer’s colleague Mkhuseli Mbomvu. Despite a very compelling mosaic, it fell apart on the alibi aspect, as well as claims about the turnstiles at his work, CCTV footage and cell phone pings. The Lotz murder has never been officially solved.
So did he have an alibi or not? It depends on your source of information. Some say he did, others that he didn’t. What Van der Vyfer’s lawyer successfully achieved [then and now] was reasonable doubt.
In the Rohde case, the most critical area of information is time of death. Did Susan die early in the morning, or later, as Jason Rohde claimed she did? If Susan died earlier, close to 03:00, it’s likely she was murdered immediately after an argument, and in the hours after, Rohde planned, prepared and executed a cover-up.
If Susan died later, after 07:00, which is Rohde’s version of events, then the probability shifts towards suicide. Just as in the Lotz case, Rohde has a lot of explaining to do, and many elements about this case, especially the autopsy evidence, don’t quite add up.
If Rohde is to be believed, he assaulted his wife [pushed her, elbowed her etc], and then left her alone while she killed herself. Her three broken ribs and fractured sternum were, according to his pathologist, caused by CPR. The big black bruise on her inner thigh was caused by doing a handstand and then falling on dumbbells. The cuts on her toes, by a marathon runner slipping on a walk way.
Even if we put all those issues aside, we’re left with one very troubling piece of evidence, and it’s this:
In the same way the alibi testimony puts a spanner in the works in the Lotz case, this WhatsApp at 07:06 is a real problem. It suggests, after things went nuclear a few hours earlier, the couple did settle down in suite 221 and both went to sleep for a while in the same bed. Susan then woke up and began messaging Alterskye.
The other possibility, of course, is that Susan never sent this message. Someone may have impersonated her and sent it. One giveaway about the message is how it starts. Jason said… And the rest of the message is about Jason and Jolene, sent from Susan’s phone.
If the murder did happen at around 03:00, then Jason Rohde had three to four hours to prepare the scene, including setting up and staging the hanging, locking the door from the outside, and sending this message from Susan’s phone.
Incidentally, in the Oscar Pistorius case, even in Oscar’s own version, he testified that the first thing he did after finding Reeva in the toilet cubicle was reach for her phone. He claimed he was trying to make an emergency call, but as we all know, you’d never use someone else’s phone to call when you have your own. Most phones are key coded anyway.
In order for the prosecution to prove that this message wasn’t sent by Susan, Louis van Niekerk must be able to demonstrate that Rohde had the ability to send messages from his wife’s phone.
Not only does the above exchange confirm Susan’s access, but Rohde himself admits: “If I call her [Alterskye] it will come up on Siri [which he writes as seri].” Siri is Apple’s virtual assistance, which confirms which operating system they were using. Besides this, Rohde admitted as much during his testimony under cross-examination.
Since his wife had access to his iCloud, and naturally so did he, and by virtue of Susan’s phone having access, Rohde’s access was retroactive. Meaning, he didn’t need Susan’s handset to be able to send messages, just the iCloud access.
Before we continue, a disclaimer. I don’t own an iPhone, although I do have an iPod and iTunes account. The protocols of interoperability are constantly changing, so what they were in July 2016 isn’t absolutely certain. What there’s no doubt about is:
- The Rohdes were using the iCloud system
- It was possible to send messages from either phone remotely, using that system
I’ve taken the liberty to research this a little online. The screengrabs below show this is a real issue amongst users. It also suggests how Oscar’s call records could have been wiped remotely [all that is needed is the username and password], and how any criminal can selectively clean incriminating messages in the same way. It’s just another element to the cleaning and staging of the overall crime scene, it’s just in the digital dimension.
In sum, not only was it possible to do cell phone staging, but this is indicative of a fair degree of technical know-how. If Jason Rohde did stage the 07:06 message, if he could break into his wife’s phone, then wouldn’t the former CEO have the chutzpah to figure out something as simple as this?