15 Apr 2021

Murderer Venod Skantha dies in jail

5:42 pm on 15 April 2021

Convicted murderer Venod Skantha died soon after learning his appeal had been dismissed.

Venod Skantha

Venod Skantha Photo: RNZ / Tim Brown

The 33-year-old, who was serving a sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of Dunedin teenager Amber-Rose Rush, died in a suspected suicide yesterday afternoon.

Emergency services were called to Otago Corrections Facility just before 4pm.

"Corrections can confirm Venod Skantha died in custody at Otago Corrections Facility yesterday afternoon," Otago Corrections Facility prison director Lyndal Miles said in a statement this afternoon.

"Mr Skantha was advised of the Court's decision in relation to his appeal in a telephone call from a representative of his legal counsel yesterday afternoon. Conversations between prisoners and their legal advisers are privileged and Corrections was not aware of the decision.

"The Court does not routinely inform Corrections of decisions that do not have an impact on the length of a prisoner's sentence.

"When staff are made aware of information that has the potential to impact a prisoner's wellbeing our policy is to carry out an assessment of the person's risk. This includes in a range of specific circumstances that are detailed here, or in any other circumstance where the person displays a change in behaviour or mood, or information is received by staff that causes concern for their safety."

There was no indication his death was suspicious and his next of kin had been notified of his death by police, Miles said.

News that Skantha's appeal had been dismissed in its entirety reached media outlets about 3.30pm yesterday.

Emergency services were called to Otago Corrections Facility soon after.

The coroner confirmed Skantha's death had been referred to them and was an active case.

His death would also be investigated by the independent Corrections Inspectorate.

"Our thoughts are with the man's family and friends. Other men in the unit and staff are being provided with support," Miles said.

"As the man's death remains subject to investigation, and the Coroner is yet to determine the cause, we are limited in the amount of detail that we are able to provide."

Skantha was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 19-year non-parole period in March last year.

He stabbed Amber-Rose Rush to death in her Dunedin home in February 2018 to stop her coming forward with claims of sexual assault, supplying minors with alcohol and offering money for sex.

The pair shared a tense text message exchange in the hours before her death in which she said she would tell the police and his bosses at Dunedin Hospital everything.

His career was on thin ice at the time after he showed up to work while off duty, and after drinking, and treated a patient in 2017.

The jury also found Skantha guilty of threatening to kill the prosecution's key witness and his family.

In dismissing his appeal the Court of Appeal found the evidence proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Skantha was also subject to a Medical Council professional conduct investigation, which had been paused while his conviction and sentence was under appeal. It was unclear what will now happen with that.

Rush's sister Shantelle Rush said the death of her sister's killer would not bring back the loved ones the family had lost, but it was a relief.

Her mother, Lisa Ann Rush, died in a suspected suicide in the months after the murder.

"I am relieved the appeal got thrown out. Amber didn't get a chance at her life so why should he? We all know he was proven guilty," Shantelle Rush said.

"It's mixed feelings for me about the news of him taking his life, I am so relieved he will never walk freely again and can't hurt anyone else down the track if he did ever get released, and that we won't be dragged through court anymore. But at the same time I feel like it was a easy way out for him and he doesn't have to serve his sentence or live with the guilt of what he's done.

"Nothing will ever take away the pain from our family. He may be gone, which is a relief in some ways, but it still won't bring back Amber or Mum. But now we can finally grieve properly for them without the stresses of court and parole hanging over us."

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Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

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