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Defence witness' 'objectionable' report thrown out

Publish date: 13 June 2018
Issue Number: 4479
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: general

Western Cape High Court Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe yesterday refused to allow the defence's psychiatrist, Dr Larissa Panieri-Peter, from continuing with her testimony in the Jason Rohde murder case, bringing the trial to an abrupt adjournment. News24 reports that the judge said Panieri-Peter had overstepped her role and repeated the testimonies of other witnesses. She was excused from the stand immediately. On Monday, the judge repeatedly raised several concerns and reservations about her report quoting different people and not sticking to her professional opinion. Panieri-Peter had testified that after doing a 'psychological autopsy', she believed Susan Rohde was a suicide risk, which went against the testimony of Susan's psychologist. Yesterday, Salie-Hlophe said her report was objectionable in many respects and 'repeats evidence already placed before court and goes far beyond the scope, expertise and role of the witness'. She said Panieri-Peter had taken on the role of the court, which had to determine whether Susan's death was a suicide or homicide. 'No court acting reasonably would abdicate this responsibility.' Salie-Hlophe said the report made mention of anonymous people and of evidence already tested through cross-examination and questions by the court. 'Simply put, I perceive that this evidence and report by this witness is nothing more than an attempt by the defence to get a second bite at the cherry.' Defence lawyer Advocate Graham van der Spuy objected and said he wanted to bring a formal application for a special entry to note his objections. 'The court has acted grossly irregularly with this ruling,' he said, adding it was prejudicial to his client. 'There is not a lot of justification for the court's ruling and the trial has been contaminated as a result.' Salie-Hlophe said his request was noted.

Full News24 report

Prosecutor Louis van Niekerk, however, said the court had acted within the law 'up to now'. The ruling, he said did not warrant application for a special entry. TimesLIVE notes that Salie-Hlophe said the court was not going to attach any weight to the 43-page report which Panieri-Peter handed in on Monday based on a psychiatric assessment she conducted on Rohde in 2016 as well as a 'psychological autopsy' on his wife Susan who was referred to Panieri-Peter in September 2016 for an independent psychiatric evaluation. In her report, Panieri-Peter said it appeared there had been 'significant change in (Susan's) appearance and behaviour prior to her death'. 'She was a non-smoker and, in fact, was against smoking for most of her life (but) ... she had started to smoke in the months before her death.' Susan also drank more alcohol in the months before her death, she added. Panieri-Peter also relied on WhatsApp messages for her assessment as well as interviews with Rohde, their housekeeper and the couple's friends. She said Susan's family refused to be interviewed. The psychiatrist said she also interviewed the couple's marriage counsellor, who was 'very concerned about (Susan's) mental health and recommended admission to hospital'. Panieri-Peter concluded that Susan had 'insecurities and was a perfectionist', adding: 'I would say she had major depression, and that alone increased the risk of suicide very significantly.' Rohde has pleaded not guilty to killing Susan and then staging her death as a suicide.

Full TimesLIVE report