Dunedin doctor convicted of murdering teenage girl was framed - defence

The defence for a Dunedin doctor convicted of murdering a teenage girl says the doctor was framed, and the conviction was the result of a miscarriage of justice.

On Monday a panel of judges in the Wellington Court of Appeal listened as Jonathon Eaton QC argued the sentence of 32-year-old Venod Skantha.

In November 2019 Skantha was sentenced to life in prison for the February 2018 murder of 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush. He was also convicted on four counts of threatening to kill. 

The Crown says Rush had threatened to go to the police about Skantha's behaviour which included supplying drugs and alcohol to minors and offering them money for sex. The junior doctor was on a final warning at work, following an incident where he turned up off-duty after drinking and treated a patient - if Rush went to the police it could have ended his career.

Skantha got a young acquaintance to drive him to Rush's home, where he used a spare key to enter the house and slit her throat. The wound to the teenager's neck showed evidence of medical knowledge, and secondary wounds implied that Skantha felt anger towards her, says the Crown.

But Eaton told the court the young driver, whose name is suppressed, was never treated as a suspect when he should have been.

"In his evidence he described himself as a compulsive liar - there were endless inconsistencies, lies - and yet right from the initiation of the investigation the police refused to ever treat him as a suspect, the Crown and the court refused to treat him as a subject."

Eaton argued it was the young man who murdered Rush and then framed Skantha, saying the man had "significant, intimate details" of the case. Eaton questioned whether these were told to him by Skantha, or whether they were first-hand accounts.

He says the young witness changed his story frequently.

"The blinkered approach police took from day one did not address why he was lying, what would motivate him to lie - no matter what he said that approach was not going to change."

Eaton also argues there were "highly prejudicial" details given about Skantha during his trial, which were not directly relevant to his case.

Texts between Rush and Skantha show she intended to go to the police about the doctor supplying minors with illicit substances, indecently assaulting her and offering her money to have sex with him.

Eaton says these details could have swayed the jury.

"The jury was told 'you turned up drunk at work, offending against minors, sharing drugs with young women' - all things which had nothing to do with the case. It really ran the risk of dominating the trial."

Robin Bates QC will outline the Crown's case.