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Snelson sentenced to 15 years

The parents of Jennifer Cusworth outside of the Kelowna Law Courts House speaking to media - Douglas Farrow / Contributor
The parents of Jennifer Cusworth outside of the Kelowna Law Courts House speaking to media
— image credit: Douglas Farrow / Contributor

Neil George Snelson was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday, although he'll be free to return to the life he built in just over a decade.

The Kelowna man was arrested in October 2009 for the 1993 killing of Jennifer Cusworth and has been in custody ever since.

The two years of prison time already under his belt will be doubled and applied toward his sentence, truncating his time behind bars to an additional 11-year maximum.

Although Snelson's sentence fell short of the 16 to 20 years Crown Counsel was pursuing,  Jennifer Cusworth's parents Jean and Terry weren't dissatisfied.

"Nothing will bring Jennifer back. I don't think any sentence would have delighted me," Jean said, as she was leaving the courthouse. "I thought, OK, I'll accept it … I'm not thrilled. We wanted life."

What pleased the Cusworths, however, was within Justice Alison Beames' rendering of Snelson's sentence.

Crown Counsel asked Beames to conclude that Jennifer was also sexually assaulted by Snelson, in addition to her regular task of balancing mitigating and aggravating factors.

The extra responsibility sprung from the fact the jury had only been asked to decide on whether Snelson caused Jennifer's death. Crown counsel contended there was more to the crime than just that, however, being as Snelson's strange sexual proclivities were the underlying motivation of the killing.

Snelson, 27 at the time of the crime,  had already built up a criminal record stemming from incidents of public masturbation—a fact kept from the jury—but he testified he and Jennifer had a brief, consensual fling.

They met, according to Snelson's vague recollection, at the  Richter Street party from which she went missing and went to his truck for anal and vaginal sex.

He originally testified he and Jennifer then walked back to the party, from that encounter,  together. But when asked why nobody saw them together, he changed his tune and said they went their separate ways after having sex.

That was just one of many examples of conflicting testimony delivered in an "argumentative and hostile" manner, said Beames.

"(Snelson) was inconsistent and tried to create new stories to fill in holes," Justice Beames said.

"I reject and completely disbelieve Snelson's evidence that he had consensual sex with Jennifer Cusworth."

Snelson, she said, sexually assaulted Jennifer before killing her and dumping her body in a ditch, which was worthy of a longer sentence than the eight to 12 years defence was requesting.

Beames was also asked by Crown to take into account police allegations that Snelson downloaded violent pornography and continued to masturbate in public up until being arrested for Jennifer's murder. Those allegations weren't factored in, she said.

Nor were letters the defence submitted, speaking to the positive aspects of Snelson's character. Friends, family and fellow church-goers wrote reams of letters saying the father of four was incapable of violence of any kind.

Beames pointed out  Snelson has carried a "dark secret, not obvious to friends and family" since 1993, and although he's been a member of the Christian community for the better part of a decade, he's not shown signs of addressing the sexual issues which became a problem as far back as 1987.

Snelson's family broke into sobs as the courtroom drained of onlookers and friends and family of Cusworth. His wife and four children weren't present at sentencing, although they had attended some days of the trial.

Snelson continues to maintain his innocence, said his lawyer Wade Jenson, adding they were disappointed Justice Beames factored a sexual assault into her sentence.

They have 30 days from sentencing to decide whether they'll appeal the decision.

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