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Snelson trial: DNA evidence presented; father scrutinized his son

As Mounties narrowed in on Neil Snelson as the lead suspect of the 1993 slaying of Jennifer Cusworth, his friends and family felt the pressure of an investigation turned their way.

A wiretap recording of a conversation between Snelson and his father from Oct. 21, 2009, was played to the court last Friday, providing jurors insight into questions arising within his inner circle just days before his arrest.

“How well did you know the girl?” Snelson's father asked his son, explaining later police had been by his home, and were asking about Jennifer Cusworth.

“I don’t know her—I never met her before,” Snelson said.

“You didn’t see her?” asked his father, making reference to the Oct. 16, 1993, Richter Street house party, where Cusworth was last seen.

“There were 200 people at the party; it was packed,” Snelson said.

Although he told his father twice he had no contact with the young woman who was found dead in a ditch on Swamp Road the next day, his father continued to question him about any possible connection.

“They think, maybe, the girl got into the vehicle,” said Barry, making reference to questions police had about the brown truck Snelson drove years earlier.

Snelson explained that his truck held three other people that night—two women and his friend Bart Ciancone, the latter being the only person he claimed to know.

He dropped Ciancone off at his Knox Mountain home after he gave the other two a ride to where they were going, although he couldn’t remember where that might be.

“Bart (Ciancone) knew the two girls…he would know who the two girls were, they were his friends,” Snelson said.

Police, however, indicated to Barry that they hoped the vehicle itself may have some answers.

“They want to trace that vehicle,” Barry said, explaining they had particular interest in a canopy.

“My truck never had a canopy,” said Snelson.

Snelson then told his father that the truck was eventually taken to an auto wrecker’s, although he didn’t know which one.

The conversation offered a contrast to testimony given earlier in the week.

Snelson’s friend Bart Ciancone testified last Monday that all he remembered from the ride home the night of the party was someone sitting on his lap in the truck, getting out of the passenger side door and saying, “nice meeting you.”

Later in the week, Snelson’s ex-wife, Katherine Oystryk also offered a contradictory evidence.

Although Snelson told his father he never had a canopy on his truck, nor did he like them, Oystryk showed a family album of photos from 1993, where the brown truck was visible. On the box, was a canopy, which she said went on and off with ease.

The truck hasn’t been entered into evidence, as it never was found.

Rounding out day eight of the trial, Crown counsel Iain Currie brought forth more people who spoke to the events of the night.

Early in the day Keith Smith, who was living at the Richter Street house where the party was held, spoke about the activities of the night and the condition of Cusworth.

Drinking, pot smoking and cocaine use were the activities of many party goers. Cusworth, he said, was “quite drunk” and he and others attempted to keep her from leaving on her own.

Smith also testified that the purse, which Cusworth left behind when she disappeared from the party, was put into safe keeping by him and another housemate, Eric Mikkelson.

Offering another layer of insight into the happenings of that night was Faith Klinksiek, who was asked by mutual friend Pam Coulombe to make sure the teen made it to the Bernard Avenue apartment she and Coulombe shared.

Cusworth, she also testified, was drunk and looking forward to going home, when  she last saw her. She told her to  wait 10 minutes.

Ronald Glave was asked to watch her, and he did for a while, noting in testimony offered Monday that Cusworth was in a pleasant mood, although impatient to leave. He last saw her go back in the house, to get Klinksiek.

She testified Cusworth returned to the kitchen and walked behind her, where she assumed she was waiting. When she decided to leave, Cusworth was gone. A few party-goers looked around the street for her, until calling it a night.

***

Samples of DNA taken from slain teen Jennifer Cusworth’s body offered a seemingly ironclad link to the man standing trial for her 1993 murder.

Dr. Norma Szakacs, an expert in forensic biology employed by the RCMP, testified Monday that there’s only a one in 36 trillion chance that DNA collected from a vaginal swab of Cusworth, didn’t belong to Neil Snelson.

There’s a one in 75 billion chance that a sample collected from a rectal swab of the teenager was not a match to Snelson.

The samples had previously been cross checked against 160 men who submitted their samples at the behest of police investigators, not to mention 220,000 profiles in the national DNA databank.

Szakacs was one of the last witnesses to testify for Crown counsel, which Monday morning wrapped up its portion of the trial.

She explained that the DNA collected in the summer of 2009 didn’t offer the first time that she’d worked with biological evidence from Cusworth, after the teen was found dead, Oct. 17, 1993.

In 1999, the young woman’s fingernail clippings and fingernail scrapings were examined for evidence.

From fingernail scrapings of Cusworth’s right hand, testified Szakacs, no  blood was found, and the DNA profile matched Cusworth. The left hand rendered the same results.

Fingernail clippings, conversely, offered a faint indication of blood, but the sample was too weak to draw any conclusions.

Szakacs was also familiar with evidence from the Swamp Road site, where Cusworth’s body was found.

A beer can and a belt found nearby had been checked for human DNA, but offered no help to investigators.

The belt did have DNA, but no profile was obtained, while the beer can was evidence-free.

DNA has been a significant element of Crown counsel’s case.

In addition to the body fluid taken from Cusworth’s corpse, the Crown submitted evidence of a hair sample investigators found after her death.

On her black tank-top, a red pubic hair came back as a mitochondrial DNA match to the blood sample taken from Snelson.

The probability of a mitochondrial match coming from someone other than Snelson is one in 49.  With the Crown wrapping up its case Monday, Snelson’s defence will offer opening statements and evidence starting today. It’s unclear how long it will take the defence to present its case.

 

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