14 Mar 2020

Murdered teen's family 'disgusted' her killer wore earplugs in court

11:48 am on 14 March 2020

First published on Otago Daily Times

By Rob Kidd for the Otago Daily Times

The family of a murdered Dunedin teen are "disgusted" her killer was able to wear earplugs through his sentencing, due to a Corrections bungle.

Former doctor Venod Skantha at his sentencing today.

Venod Skantha was jailed for 19 years after being convicted of murdering a 16-year-old in Dunedin. Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

Venod Skantha, 32, a former Dunedin Hospital doctor, was jailed for a minimum of 19 years last week, when he was sentenced over the death of 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush.

He sneaked into her Corstorphine home late on 2 February 2018 and stabbed her six times in the neck, the court heard at last year's trial. Her mother, Lisa-Ann, found her the next morning.

Amber-Rose's brother, Jayden, read a poignant statement at sentencing, written by their mother just weeks before her suspected suicide.

"I am constantly living with the nightmares of finding Amber... It's not a normal life, it's an existence."

Skantha may not have heard a word.

While standing in the dock throughout the hearing, Skantha could be seen wearing orange earplugs.

A Corrections spokesman confirmed they had been bought by the killer while he was behind bars.

"Prisoners are searched prior to leaving prison for court. However, earplugs are able to be used during transport in a prison escort vehicle," he said.

"The prisoner should not have worn them into the courtroom. This was an oversight and they should have been removed from him."

Amber-Rose's sister, Shantelle Rush, said the family had noticed the anomaly when they saw photos after sentencing.

"We were all pretty disgusted. It was stuff he needed to hear."

Skantha had bragged to a teenage friend that no-one would have survived the stabbing and demonstrated how he had executed Amber-Rose, before later toasting marshmallows while he burned his bloodied clothes.

Justice Gerald Nation said the doctor's behaviour in the aftermath showed an arrogance and Ms Rush said that was reinforced by his behaviour at sentencing.

"It proves he doesn't care about what he's done," she said.

The Ministry of Justice refused to comment on the matter.

But University of Auckland law professor Mark Henaghan said Justice Nation would certainly not have stood for Skantha's shenanigans had he known.

While there was nothing in law that specifically required a defendant to listen to proceedings, it provided an insight into Skantha's mindset, Henaghan said.

"It certainly shows a disrespect for the court and what's going on," he said.

Though a judge's comments were often directed at a defendant, they were often just as important for victims and the public, Henaghan said.

After more than two years, the Rush family's trauma continued.

The Court of Appeal confirmed yesterday Skantha had filed an appeal, though no date for the hearing had been set.

"It just doesn't end," Ms Rush said.

- This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times

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