Killer Dunedin doctor Venod Skantha’s appeal over Amber-Rose Rush murder dismissed

The Dunedin doctor imprisoned for the infamous murder of a teenage girl who had threatened him with allegations of sexual assault has had his appeal against the conviction thrown out.

A panel of Court of Appeal judges have also said they are satisfied the man committed the crime, and that he is also guilty of threatening to kill four people to silence a witness.

Amber-Rose Rush, 16, was found dead in a pool of blood in her bedroom in Corstorphine in southwest Dunedin in early February, 2018.

Venod Skantha, 32, was charged with her murder, and found guilty by a jury in the High Court at Dunedin in November 2019. He was also found guilty on four counts of threatening to kill.

He was later sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 19 years.

In the Court of Appeal late last year, Skantha’s lawyer, Jonathan Eaton QC, argued against his conviction and sentence, saying a key witness in the case should have been treated as an accomplice to the murder.

Amber-Rose and Skantha met in 2017 through mutual friends when she was aged 15.

She told her mother he was an older man who “exclusively hung out with teenagers”.

In early January 2018, Amber-Rose alleged Skantha sexually assaulted her after a night of heavy drinking. She told a friend she thought she may have been drugged after waking up with Skantha’s hand allegedly down her pants and her top and bra removed.

She also claimed he offered to pay her up to $20,000 to have sex with him. She told her friend she was no longer speaking to him.

Then, on the evening of February 2, she posted screenshots of a conversation with Skantha on Instagram, claiming he had been supplying alcohol and “touching up young girls”. She then said she would be approaching police and the hospital with her claims.

At that point, Skantha had already been given a final warning for misconduct.

She and Skantha got into a heated argument over Facebook messenger, following which he put on dark clothes and had a teenage friend drive him to Amber-Rose’s home in Clermiston Ave.

When he emerged from the house, he was carrying the victim’s phone, licence, and a blood-soaked knife.

He told his friend to clean the car and other items, but an investigation uncovered Amber-Rose’s DNA in the doctor’s BMW and on his shoes.

Despite Skantha making death threats against him, the friend told police what happened and showed them where to find the evidence.

Skantha was arrested the day after Amber-Rose’s body was found.

Skantha’s argument was that the witness had actually been the one to kill Amber-Rose out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

At appeal, Eaton argued the teenager should have been treated as an accomplice, and that the jury should have warned his evidence could be unreliable for that reason.

Other appeal grounds included that some evidence brought to trial should have been inadmissible, that the judge’s summing up to the jury was unbalanced and unfair, and that the judge was wrong to warn the jury not to attach significance to the key witness’ demeanour when he was giving evidence, and when he gave his police interview.

The Court of Appeal was not convinced, however, saying while Eaton “mounted a wide-ranging and thorough challenge to the conduct of the trial and the summing-up”, they were not persuaded there were any material errors in how the case was handled.

Errors they had identified were not serious enough to have created a real risk of the trial having a different outcome, they said in their judgment, released today.

“It is not necessary that we form our own view of Mr Skantha’s guilt but we have done so; we are satisfied that the evidence proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” the judges wrote in their decision.

The appeal was dismissed.

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