Dunedin doctor Venod Skantha's murder conviction appeal should be tossed out - Crown prosecutor

A Crown prosecutor has shot down the appeal of a Dunedin doctor convicted of murdering a teenage girl, saying it should be dismissed. 

Venod Skantha, 32, launched an appeal of his conviction on Monday with his lawyer arguing the Crown's key witness was unreliable, and was never treated as a suspect in the murder of 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush in February 2018.

Jonathan Eaton QC said the teenage witness, who has name suppression, could have killed Rush either because he idolised Skantha and knew Rush was planning to share information that would incriminate the doctor or because he was framing Skantha.
He said 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.

When questioned over why the teen would try and protect Skantha while framing him, Eaton said the teen was "a very odd person".

Eaton said the teen saw screenshots of a conversation between Skantha and Rush posted on her Instagram, which showed she intended to tell the police Skantha was supplying minors with drugs and alcohol and touching them inappropriately. This would have ended his career as a doctor, as he was already on final warning for arriving at work under the influence of alcohol. 

Eaton says the teen immediately informed Skantha of the screenshots and then drove the 32-year-old doctor over to Rush's house.

The Crown says Skantha then used a spare key to gain access into Rush's home, crept into her bedroom and slit her throat. The wounds were unsurvivable and displayed medical knowledge Skantha would have had as they severed two major arteries and her windpipe. The Crown also says further stab wounds to her neck indicated Skantha was upset with Rush.

Furthermore, Crown Prosecutor Robin Bates QC told the court locations services on Skantha's phone were disabled on two critical days - the day Rush was murdered, and the following day - despite having always been activated before the killing, and after it. 

Crown prosecutor Robin Bates said it was "no coincidence that the two days of real relevance were not there".

Forensic evidence also implicates Skantha, who admits it was his teenage friend driving the vehicle. Splatters of Rush's blood were found on the passenger side of the vehicle - thought to have gotten there from Skantha removing a bloodied glove.

"It had to have come from the passenger side, and it had to have been fresh," Bates told the court.

Rush's blood was also found on Skantha's shoes - with the teenager saying he left the blood there deliberately so police could solve the case.

The teen said during the 2019 trial that Skantha threatened to kill him if he breathed a word to anyone. 

As well as this, it's an undisputed fact that Skantha held a bonfire at this then-girlfriends house the day after Rush was murdered, where he burned what he said were "old" clothes.

CCTV shows the teenaged friend wearing the same clothes he had been wearing the night of Rush's murder the following day - something that would not have been possible had he cut Rush's throat, as they would have been covered in blood.

Analysis of the clothes showed there was none of Rush's blood on them - just an older bloodstain, likely animal blood. 

Bates QC said the appeal should be thrown out, as no miscarriage of justice or unfair trial occurred. 

"The appeal should be dismissed. None of the grounds on which [Skantha] relies on are made out. Neither an unfair trial nor miscarriage of justice has occurred."

The decision is expected in 2021.