“That is the story of malignant self-love. The love for yourself,” Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe said on Wednesday.
While the Western Cape High Court heard about all the “big loves” in Jason Rohde’s life, there was one “big love story” that trumped all others when his wife, Susan, was killed, a judge said during Rohde’s sentencing for murder.
“In the course of murdering your wife and setting the scene that she had taken her own life, no other interests, desires and care mattered [other than those] of your own.”
Rohde was on Wednesday sentenced to an effective 20 years in prison.
He received 18 years for the murder charge and five years for defeating the ends of justice by staging the suicide, three of which would run concurrently with the sentence for the murder charge.
Salie-Hlophe said the aggravating factors were so “extreme and shocking” that they justified exceeding the 15-year minimum jail term for murder.
Rohde, 50, appeared emotionless as a police officer handcuffed him and took him back down to the cells.
The couple had been attending Rohde’s work conference at the Spier hotel in July 2016 when Susan was found dead in their hotel bathroom.
‘A painful, gruesome death’
They had been married for 22 years.
Salie-Hlophe said Susan would have looked to Rohde for protection and security as her husband and father of their three daughters.
Her guard and defences would have been down in the sanctity of their private space and in the comfort of the presence of her husband.
She said the murder was callous, brutal and shocking.
“Susan died a painful and gruesome death. She did not die instantly… she suffered in the last moments of her life eventually succumbing to her death.”
The court detailed all the injuries she sustained during manual strangulation and smothering.
In the heat of the moment, Rohde would have had time to reflect on his actions and stop, she said.
“It is a significant and disturbing fact that throughout the ordeal you did not call for medical assistance. When you ultimately did call for help you limited it to a handyman purely for the purpose of furthering the commission of your offences.”
‘Preparation was key’
Salie-Hlophe referenced Rohde’s history as the former CEO of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty by comparing the staging of his wife’s suicide to the staging of a house by estate agents.
“Gleaning from the crime scene photos and other evidence, you used your wife’s body as a showhouse to sell the concept that she had taken her own life.”
She said Rohde posed his wife naked so his alibi, the handyman, would be shocked by her nakedness and exit the bathroom without further ado or inspection.
“Preparation was clearly key and you had one chance to make the impression you wanted.
“Through the act of staging you were marketing and selling the suicide brand you had prepared for and, quite frankly, grotesquely went beyond the pale.”
She said Susan loved her life, family, her friends and community.
“The death and loss of such a remarkable person, a mother, a daughter, a sister and friend is in itself a traumatic and grieving experience. By blaming her for your demise in circumstances where you had murdered her added insult to injury.”
Considering that violence against women is an epidemic in South Africa, Salie-Hlophe said it was important for members of the community to know that offenders would be punished accordingly and for them have faith in the justice system.
Rohde’s legal team intended appealing both his conviction and sentence.