The Western Cape High Court should sentence Jason Rohde to more than the minimum 15-year jail term because he betrayed his wife Susan’s trust and killed her in a violent, cold-blooded manner. Prosecutor Louis van Niekerk proposed that the court impose a sentence of between 18 and 20 years for the murder.
If the sentence for the murder is less than that, he believes the sentence for defeating the ends of justice, by staging a suicide, should not run concurrently.
He said Susan was the “heart” of the family and believed she could still make the marriage work.
“She was murdered in the sanctity of her [hotel] bedroom by her husband. That was her safe haven. The killer was not a stranger to her. She was vulnerable there,” he argued.
The only sentencing factors he could find in Rohde’s favour was that he had no previous convictions and would not commit a crime like this again.
However, he did not believe Rohde was a good candidate for rehabilitation because he planned to appeal. Salie-Hlophe disagreed with him on this point.
Rohde, 50, was found guilty in November of murdering his wife at the Spier hotel in July 2016 and of obstructing justice by trying to make her death look self-inflicted.
The property mogul had “staged her death as a play” and roped in various “actors” and “extras” to tell a story that she had committed suicide, Salie-Hlophe said in her judgment.
Defence lawyer Graham van der Spuy said his client maintained his innocence.
He countered that, while the murder was very serious, it fell in a lower category of severity because it was not premeditated and not done for any financial or material gain.
“I can only describe this as a moment of weakness or madness in which he simply snapped,” he said, calling it a crime of passion.
He said there was “not one vestige” of any physical violence towards his wife or anyone else in his first 48 years of life.
The allegation of battered wife syndrome was “utterly dispelled”, he pointed out.
Salie-Hlophe intervened: “Except for that Saturday night, Sunday morning.”
The court heard how, for every year that Rohde was put away, his family would suffer, and he would miss out on his three daughters’ lives.
Salie-Hlophe countered: “Ironically, the same applies for the deceased.”
When he said there was no basis for exceeding the minimum sentence, she said Susan did not die instantly and suffered a painful and gruesome death.
A significant feature for her was that Rohde did not show hesitation in committing the crimes. He did not call for medical assistance and “left her to die”.
Referring to photos of the crime scene, she said: “There were some strong aggravating features. The way Mrs Rohde is lying naked… There was not a care for her dignity. I struggled to find an acknowledgment that this was his wife, the mother of his children.”
She referred to it as a “grotesque vilification”.
Van der Spuy said he could not reply because his client maintained his innocence. His version was that his conduct and the affair indirectly led to her death.
“I can’t come and argue that my client is remorseful for killing his wife [because he maintains his innocence]. It is clear that Mr Rohde has huge remorse involved in the death of his wife”.
Rohde would be sentenced on Wednesday, February 27. He remains in custody.