New trial for historic Kelowna murder 0
A new manslaughter trial has been ordered — due to a judge's error — by the B.C. Court of Appeal for Neil Snelson, who was earlier convicted by jury in the death of Jennifer Cusworth in 1993. (UNSOLVEDCANADA.CA)
The B.C. Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial for a manslaughter conviction in what had been Kelowna’s oldest cold case — a 1993 sex assault and murder of a young woman in a night of booze and drugs.
Neil Snelson, now in his late 40s, was arrested in 2009 and convicted of manslaughter by a jury two years later after his DNA was linked to semen found in a 19-year-old woman.
Jennifer Cusworth was a first-year college student who was very intoxicated and was last seen leaving a party either to spend the night at a friend’s or to her aunt and uncle’s house. Most of the partygoers — about 200 in all — had been drinking and many were consuming marijuana and cocaine.
But Cusworth never arrived at her destination, the court said, and her body was found two days later in a ditch a significant distance away from the party.
In a decision published Thursday, Justice Elizabeth Bennett said the trial judge, in her directions to the jury, had improperly suggested Snelson’s answer to police when asked whether he intends to plead guilty — that “he had not decided yet”— could suggest guilt.
“The statement had no probative value and was highly prejudicial as it is easily misinterpreted when taken out of the context of the interview as a whole and Mr. Snelson’s continual assertions of his rights,” Bennett wrote, referring to how Snelson had repeatedly insisted he would remain silent.
Snelson had argued that he met Cusworth at the back of the house party and went to his truck to have consensual sex. The Crown had argued Snelson, who was 27 at the time but had a history of exposing himself, struck Cusworth after he exposed himself to her and forced intercourse on her.
Her cause of death, according to the court, was bludgeoning after being strangled.