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Murderer doctor Venod Skantha dies in prison day after losing appeal

The former doctor convicted of murdering a Dunedin teenager has died in prison.

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 yesterday. 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.

Emergency services attended the incident about 4pm yesterday.

All deaths in custody were referred to the Coroner.

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

Yesterday Skantha learned his bid to overturn hismurder 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 murderingAmber-Rose in Dunedin on February 3, 2018.

“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.

Skantha was serving a 19-year non-parole term.

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.

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