Claim woman groped, machete threat made

Venod Skantha denies murdering Amber-Rose Rush. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Venod Skantha denies murdering Amber-Rose Rush. Photo: Christine O'Connor
A jury in a murder trial has heard how a Dunedin doctor allegedly molested a semi-conscious woman and threatened another with a machete.

Venod "Vinny" Skantha (32) has pleaded not guilty to stabbing 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush to death in her Corstorphine home on February 2 last year.

The jury in the High Court at Dunedin previously heard the Crown case is that the defendant killed the teen because she had threatened to go to his hospital bosses with sexual allegations, which would have effectively ended his medical career.

While the woman who was allegedly groped by Skantha on the couch of his Forbury rental property in 2017 told the court yesterday she had no recollection of such an incident, two others described it.

The defendant's former flatmate, Thomas Russell, said the woman had consumed alcohol and drugs to the point that she had passed out on the couch.

"I remember Vinny was touching her ... as she was unconscious and explaining to the rest of the room ... `look at her ... she likes it'," he said.

The witness' girlfriend at the time, Melissa Severins, acknowledged it was happening under a blanket, so she could not see exactly what was taking place.

"He had his hand under the blanket ... and then said to everyone he's a doctor and knows what he's doing," she told the court.

Later in 2017, her mother, Tracey Severins - who met Skantha through dating app Tinder - said they were both at the house when a violent incident ended their friendship.

The witness, who said she saw herself as a "mum figure" to the defendant, explained how he gave her $40 or $60 to buy him drugs.

"I didn't get the drugs. I thought he didn't really need it because he was always drunk," Tracey Severins said.

She said he took the news badly.

"He looked really quite angry, started pushing me and then he slammed me up against the wall," she said.

"He just came right up to my face and said, `Where's my effing drugs?"'

Melissa Severins intervened, yelling her protests.

"Go get my machete so I can slit this bitch's throat," Skantha allegedly said.

The weapon was not used but both women said they had seen it brandished before.

"He did pull it out one night when I was there. It just freaked me out anyway, seeing it. He was quite proud of it," Tracey Severins said.

Skantha, she said, "thought he was a ninja".

Under cross-examination, Tracey Severins confirmed to Jonathan Eaton QC she thought the defendant was capable of using the weapon.

"He wanted to kill people," she said.

Yesterday, the jury also heard first hand about Skantha offering Amber-Rose money for sex in January - less than a month before her death.

A 16-year-old boy - whose name is suppressed because of his age - said the doctor first made an offer of $400 to have sex with Amber-Rose while they drove from her house to Skantha's.

"Amber seemed to pass it off as a joke. So did I," he said.

Things took a more serious turn at the defendant's Fairfield property.

The witness said within a few minutes of being back, Skantha increased his financial offer.

Incrementally, the price allegedly reached $20,000.

He said his friend took offence immediately.

"I can recall Amber say, `Eww, f... off, I would not do that'," the teenager said.

"Vinny told Amber to get the f... out of his house."

The court heard the teen and victim were messaging each other the night she was stabbed to death in her bed.

"Make sure you tell whoever you talk to, he offered you money for sex. And that he offered us alcohol multiple times," the boy wrote.

Amber-Rose suggested Skantha might get jail time for the alleged crimes.

Less than 10 minutes later she was dead.

The court will hear the last of the Crown's evidence today - including Skantha's brief police interview - before the defence decides whether it will call witnesses.

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