30 Nov 2019

Venod Skantha: A former doctor who swore to protect life but is now guilty of murder

9:12 pm on 30 November 2019
  • Warning: The court case includes details of a violent nature

Former Dunedin Hospital doctor Venod Skantha swore to protect life, but in the end was willing to take a life to protect himself. RNZ details the case against him after his three-and-a-half week trial.

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Amber-Rose Rush was murdered by Venod Skantha to silence her. Photo: Facebook. RNZ

"I will maintain the utmost respect for human life" - Physician's Oath

In becoming a doctor Venod Skantha swore to protect and maintain life. In February last year, with his career crumbling around him, he murdered a teenage girl in cold blood.

Crown prosecutor Robin Bates said the wound which killed 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush demonstrated the expertise Skantha would have accumulated during his training as a doctor.

Skantha completely severed Miss Rush's carotid artery and caused damage to her spine and windpipe with a single blow of a kitchen knife from his home.

"The nature of that wound indicates that the person who did that knew what was required, knew what he's doing," Mr Bates told the jury.

"It's just one wound down the side of the neck but it is so effective.

"The killer knew that's where you target somebody. That's the sort of knowledge Dr Skantha has from his training as a doctor."

His training in preserving life turned into a murderous weapon to end it.

Miss Rush would have bled out within minutes of the fatal wound being delivered. But he still stabbed and cut her several other times.

The relationship's deadly conclusion had its origins almost a month earlier.

Amber-Rose Rush.

Amber-Rose Rush. Photo: Supplied

'You ... supply minors with alcohol, touch them up without consent' - Amber-Rose Rush to Venod Skantha

Miss Rush told friends she fell asleep on the couch at Skantha's Duxford Crescent home in early January 2018.

She awoke to find his hand down her pants, and her bra and top removed.

She was not the only one to report such encounters with Skantha.

Friends of the 16-year-old told the court Skantha's interest in her was "creepy" and he had offered up to $20,000 to have sex with her.

This was also consistent with a pattern of behaviour.

Miss Rush cut contact with Skantha following what happened in early January.

It marked the end to a friendship which had started in mid-2017 and was punctuated by boozy nights.

And that was the end of their communication, until Miss Rush used his credit card to spend $48 on Wish.com.

'It's not only his job that's at stake, it's his liberty' - Crown Prosecutor Robin Bates

He had left his wallet in her boyfriend's car and suspected she had made the purchase.

The conversation over a social media messenger service on 2 February 2018, quickly became heated.

She denied being responsible, but told him he deserved much worse considering what he did.

At 7.43pm she told him: "You're lucky I don't go into the hospital and tell them how you turn up to work drunk, supply minors with alcohol, touch them up without consent, grow up Vinny you're 30 for f---k's sake".

His job at the hospital already hung by a thread.

"I'm going to make sure everyone knows what a sick c--t you are including your work and the police," she told him.

When he questioned whether she was serious, Miss Rush replied: "Best believe I am. I'm doing the world a favour people like you don't deserve to walk freely".

But the 16-year-old, described by her family as a "beautiful, young hero", never got the chance to go to the authorities.

Her last message to Skantha - sent about 11.25pm - read: "You know what you were doing when you did it. For that you deserve everything you're gonna get".

Outside the house where the 16-year-old was killed.

The scene of Amber-Rose Rush's murder in Corstorphine. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Skantha hatches "a masterplan"

About 30 minutes later, dressed in dark clothing and wearing gloves, Skantha entered Miss Rush's Clermiston Avenue home using a spare key kept under a Buddha statue outside the front door.

The court heard there was no evidence of a struggle.

She was killed by an 11cm stab wound to the left side of her neck.

Skantha had silenced her.

He took Miss Rush's cellphone fearing the incriminating conversations about his behaviour could still lead to his career being destroyed.

But Skantha accidentally activated its camera function just after midnight as he attempted to break it while on the street outside her home.

He disposed of it into a swamp at Blackhead Quarry in the hope of deleting the exchanges between the pair.

It did not work.

The phone was found, reconstructed and its data recovered - including the images taken accidentally by Skantha.

The defence maintained Skantha's innocence and laid the blame on his teenage friend, the prosecution's key witness.

Two lives lost and a career in ruins

But the jury saw through the cracks of Skantha's story and took only three hours to find his guilt on all charges.

His medical career is now over and he faces at least 17 years behind bars.

Miss Rush on the other hand has now told her story from beyond the grave, revealing Skantha as a sexual predator who plied teenagers with booze.

In the process she has crushed the thin veneer of Doctor Skantha the life saver, instead exposing that the man who swore to protect life is in fact willing to end it to protect himself, his career, and his reputation.

His callousness on full display, not just with brutality of Miss Rush's murder, but also in his willingness to cast others as suspects in the crime.

Two days after Miss Rush's death, Skantha met with her grieving mother and after questioning whether the death was suicide, he cruelly offered up her partner as a suspect.

Miss Rush's mother died in a suspected suicide just a few months after her daughter's murder.

When Skantha was questioned by police later on 4 February, he pointed the finger at his teenage friend.

Just as the jury did, the interviewing detective saw through Skantha's lies and he was arrested about 45 minutes into the interview.

Skantha will be sentenced in March.

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