A Dunedin doctor has been accused of fatally cutting a teenage girl’s throat “to the bone” – because she stood up to him.
Venod Skantha, 32, is on trial in the High Court at Dunedin. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder of 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush – who was found dead in her Dunedin home last year.
He has also denied four counts of threatening to kill.
A jury of 10 men and two women has been selected for the trial.
Crown lawyer Richard Smith told the trial’s opening today that the prosecution had message transcripts showing Amber-Rose had threatened to go to the police and let them know Skantha was supplying young people with alcohol – after she alleges Skantha attempted to touch her without consent at a party.
Amber-Rose repeatedly told Skantha he needed to own up to what he did – and that he should be behaving more maturely, the court was told.
“I should tell the hospital you’ve been supplying young people with alcohol…. You should grow up, you’re 30 and a doctor for f*ck’s sakes.”
In another message, she accused him of preying on young people, Smith told the court.
Smith said the prosecution had GPS evidence that Skantha had made a young associate drive him to Amber-Rose’s house shortly before midnight on February 2, 2018.
He asked the youth where Amber-Rose’s room was – before entering with a hidden spare key.
Smith said the Crown case was that Skantha then killed her – by slashing and stabbing her throat six times, partially severing her ear.
Amber-Rose had no chance of surviving her injuries, the court was told.
Threatening to kill charges
Skantha is also accused of four charges of threatening to kill – in relation to his young associate and members of their family.
Smith told the court it was to prevent the young person from talking – which ultimately backfired.
The Crown had extensive evidence tying Skantha to the crime – and it backed up the youth’s version of the events, he said.
The evidence included traces of blood found on the defendant’s dress shoes, on the passenger seat of his car, and bags used to contain bloody clothes from the night of the crime – with both Skantha’s DNA and Amber-Rose’s blood.
Smith said the teenager’s phone – which contained conversations between her and the accused – was also taken and thrown into a pond at the Blackwell Quarry.
Skantha was the only person with a motive for killing Amber-Rose, the court was told.
“She was accusing him of illegal activity – and he had a lot to lose. He was on his final warning at the hospital.
“We have evidence he’d already lied to his supervisor at the DHB [district health board] about his mother dying to avoid being let go.”
Judge’s instruction to jurors
Earlier today, potential jurors flooded the court this morning as special screens and speakers were set up in the Stuart St building’s corridors to accommodate the larger-than-normal pool.
Before names were called, Justice Gerald Nation acknowledged the “significant comment” the case had generated.
“I am aware of a significant number of posts on the ‘Dunedin News’ Facebook group seen after the victim’s death and at certain points since then,” he said.
“A number of those posts were intensely emotional.”
Justice Nation said many were factually incorrect and asked any potential jurors who had posted Facebook comments on the case to inform him.
Several people whose names were drawn from the ballot box opted to speak to the judge and were stood aside.
Justice Nation told the court Skantha was a junior doctor at Dunedin Hospital at the time of the alleged murder.
He would socialise with younger people like the victim and the prosecution’s key witness, who was also 16 at the time of the killing, the judge said.
Skantha has repeatedly had bail declined since being arrested and charged, which Justice Nation said that was normal in cases of such significance.
“The fact he’s been remanded in custody means nothing,” he said.
Jonathan Eaton QC represents Skantha, while Crown prosecutors are Robin Bates and Richard Smith.
The trial is scheduled to run for six weeks.
– Additional reporting: Otago Daily Times