Skantha appeal: Doctor points finger at key witness

Venod Skantha appears in court on trial for murder.
Venod Skantha appears in court.
The Dunedin doctor who murdered teenager Amber-Rose Rush after she threatened him with sexual assault allegations is again accusing the Crown's key witness of being the killer.

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 last year. 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.

Part of Skantha's defence at trial was that a teenage friend who drove him to Rush's house - and later helped police catch Skantha - was the actual killer, who carried out the murder out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

In the Court of Appeal in Wellington today, Skantha's lawyer Jonathan Eaton QC again pointed to the teenager as being the murderer, saying Skantha had no knowledge of the killing.

The murder happened in early February 2018 when Amber-Rose made a post on Instagram accusing Skantha of supplying alcohol to minors and "touching up young girls".

She said she would approach police and hospital bosses with the allegations.

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 the 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.

In court today, Eaton said they were appealing on the basis there was a miscarriage of justice which created "a real risk that the trial outcome was affected".

Eaton said there were "really unusual features of this case" that were "quite possibly verging on novel".

The first point related to the teenage driver.

"[He] was somebody who undoubtedly had extensive and detailed knowledge of the homicide which would either, if his evidence was reliable, make him an offender or somebody who the offender's spoken to."

The teenager, who has name suppression, had described himself as a compulsive liar, Eaton said.

But police and the Crown "refused" to treat the witness as a suspect in the case.

Eaton said the teenager was the one who alerted Skantha to the Instagram post.

He pointed to "inconsistencies" and "peculiar" behaviour from the witness in his evidential interviews and during cross-examination at trial.

"It was no question that everybody could see his evidence had problems, the issue was why is that happening?

"An objective assessment as to why it's happening must recognise the risk that he is the offender who is looking to falsely implicate [Skantha]."

He said the witness had admitted he was a compulsive liar and had been exposed for "endless lies he can't explain", but the trial judge would not entertain the possibility he was the killer.

Eaton also advanced the appeal on the basis some of the evidence used at trial should never had been admissible.

The hearing continues.

 

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