Family of murdered teen react to killer's death in prison

Author
Carolyne Meng-Yee, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Apr 2021, 2:36PM
Venod Skantha was convicted of murdering 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush.
Venod Skantha was convicted of murdering 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush.

Family of murdered teen react to killer's death in prison

Author
Carolyne Meng-Yee, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 15 Apr 2021, 2:36PM

Brendon MacNee, partner of Lisa Rush and stepfather of Amber-Rose Rush, who was brutally murdered by former doctor Venod Skantha, says he is relieved by the news of Skantha's death in prison.

"I am relieved it is over, we don't have to wait for the court of appeal and we don't have to go to the parole hearings," MacNee said.

The family's heartache of losing Amber-Rose in 2018 was compounded when the teenager's mother Lisa Rush died suddenly four months later, and MacNee said that Skantha's death "won't bring back Lisa or Amber-Rose".

On hearing news of Skantha's death, MacNee said he wasn't surprised. "I am glad it's over and we can finally - not forget our loved ones - but move on," MacNee said.

Jayden Rush, Amber-Rose's brother, said Skantha's death hadn't affected him.

"His death doesn't change a whole lot for me," Jayden said.

"I still feel like how I felt when mum and Amber Rose died. I try to not think about the loss and their deaths. I don't wish any bad on most people or anyone - even him.

"I miss everything about mum and Amber. These past few years have been really difficult ... not easy at all. I have accepted and made peace with what has happened, there is no point being angry ... maybe one day I will forgive him."

Venod Skantha died in custody yesterday - the same day his appeal against his conviction was dismissed.

Police were alerted to a sudden death at Otago Corrections Facility just before 4pm. The death is not being treated as suspicious and has been referred to the Coroner.

Prison director Lyndal Miles said staff had made "every effort" to save the man but were unsuccessful.

An investigation by the independent Corrections Inspectorate would also be carried out, Miles said.

Yesterday, Skantha learned his bid to overturn his murder conviction had failed when the Court of Appeal took the rare step of stating it was satisfied the evidence in the case proved the doctor's guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

In a 44-page decision roundly dismissing the appeal, the court upheld Skantha's convictions for murdering 16-year-old Amber-Rose Rush in 2018, and for threatening to kill four people to secure the silence of a witness.

Skantha was jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 19 years for murdering Amber-Rose in Dunedin on February 3, 2018.

Amber-Rose said she was going to police and the defendant's Dunedin Hospital bosses with allegations of sexual assaults and providing alcohol to minors.

The court heard at trial that Skantha's job was already in jeopardy after he had been given a final warning for serious misconduct — the new claims would likely have ended his career.

He went to her property, entered the house and stabbed her to death in her bed.

The Appeal Court threw out his appeal yesterday.

"It is not necessary that we form our own view of Mr Skantha's guilt but we have done so; we are satisfied that the evidence proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt," the court said.

Other grounds for his appeal included claiming that some evidence brought to trial should have been inadmissible, and that the judge was wrong to warn the jury not to attach significance to the key witness' demeanour when he was giving evidence, and when he gave his police interview.

The court found that while Skantha's lawyer Jonathan Eaton QC mounted a "wide-ranging and thorough" challenge to the conduct of the trial and the summing-up, it was not persuaded that there were any material errors.

Speaking yesterday, Amber-Rose's father, Shane Rush, said he was relieved by the decision after a nerve-racking few months.

"It does make it hard when you realise there are so many options out there for these guys.

"For three years we've had to endure trial and appeals and appeals."

Shantelle Rush, Amber-Rose's sister, shared her pain on social media after her mother's death in 2018.

''I honestly thought we couldn't go through any more pain than we already were but I was wrong.

''Unfortunately last night Mum went to be with Amber-Rose. We are absolutely devastated and don't know how to get past this.

''Our family will be forever broken ... but Mum, I hope you are at peace now with Amber."

Processes 'not followed'

A former Corrections officer told the ODT he believes processes had not been followed.

The man, who had been speaking to current Otago Corrections Facility staff, said an interview was supposed to take place with prisoners when they received bad news.

A series of questions would be asked to determine how much of a risk to themselves the inmate was.

But that supposedly did not happen for Skantha on Wednesday, he said.

The Department of Corrections has been approached for comment.

Where to get help