"I killed her, I killed her, I killed her." These were the words that a sobbing Jason Rohde said to Mark Holmes, his brother-in-law, just a few days after Susan Rohde's body was found hanging from a bathroom door at Spier Hotel in July 2016, the Western Cape High Court heard on Monday.
Holmes, 50, who flew in from Australia to testify for the State, said he had known his sister's husband, Jason, for around 25 years.
He said after he had been informed that his sister had committed suicide, he texted Jason twice in the aftermath and spoke to him briefly the following Tuesday, July 26, in a conversation during which both shared how upset they were.
Holmes and his partner were due to fly out early on Thursday. They had just gone to bed on Wednesday when he got a call from Jason, who he said was sobbing profusely.
"It was very difficult to understand all his words but we had a conversation. He told me: 'I killed her, I killed her, I killed her'. I tried to comfort him, tried to tell him it wasn't his fault," Holmes testified.
"I told him our family all loved him and that I would be there the next day and was sure we would see each other then."
He said he felt very bad for Jason.
Family meeting confession
Under cross-examination by Advocate Graham van der Spuy, he agreed that he understood Jason to have meant that he killed Susan emotionally.
"You didn't understand him to mean that he had murdered her?" the defence lawyer asked him. Holmes replied in the negative.
Jason and Susan had been attending his company's business conference at the hotel, where his mistress and colleague was also staying. He has pleaded not guilty to murdering Susan and staging her suicide.
Holmes told prosecutor Louis van Niekerk that Jason called a family meeting at his home in Bryanston soon after his wife's death, where he revealed he had been having an affair.
"He shared with us how sorry he was, he shared with us how they had an altercation at Spier lodge, how he never laid a hand on her and that is it."
Holmes said he was quite distraught and somewhat puzzled by the suicide of his sister, whom he had never known to give up.
'Like a dog with a bone'
The meeting got heated and Holmes said he stood up to ask Jason: "How you could take her (Susan) into the lion's den if she is so fragile?"
"He said to me: 'I am the CEO. I am the CEO'. I was like, 'So?'" he recalled to the court.
Van der Spuy told Holmes that the accused's version was that Susan had tried to prevent Jason from leaving their hotel room, had tried to follow him, and they had argued. They argued again when they woke up at 07:00 and she went into the bathroom, which was the last time he saw her.
Holmes agreed that his sister had been very volatile, passionate and had a temper.
Just like the fights he had with his sister in the past, where she would never give up, he said she would go at Jason "like a dog with a bone".
Van Niekerk asked what he thought of the accused's version that there was a link between Susan struggling to cope with his infidelity because of the infidelity of her and Holmes' father.
Holmes replied that he did not think his sister would have linked the two incidents. He said his father's infidelity happened 18 years ago.
He said he and Susan had come to an appreciation during their conversations that their parents' marriage was "still very solid" and that Susan had helped them regain their marriage by organising a marriage guidance course.
Under cross-examination, he conceded that he had not seen his sister at all in 2016 and that she had not told him about Jason's affair.
He also knew nothing about Susan insisting she attend Jason's conference, even though partners were not invited.
Holmes was excused from the stand.
The trial will resume next Tuesday, March 27.