Kelowna man gets another shot at trial on cold case killing

The Kelowna man who was convicted in 2011 of killing teenager Jennifer Cusworth nearly two decades earlier will get another shot at a trial.

The B.C. Court of Appeal set aside Neil George Snelson's manslaughter conviction because of an error made by the trial judge.

In particular, the trial judge allowed the jury to hear a portion of Snelson's interview with RCMP,  which the appeal courts felt was prejudicial.

According to transcripts released in the appeal document, once in custody, Snelson, now 50, held a long conversation with Sgt Peter Tewfik,  where he repeatedly declined to make a comment about his circumstances. In some moments he was silent, in others he would explain he was waiting for his lawyer.

Then the following exchanged played out.

"…You keep talkin’ about what’s gonna happen, you know, that you’re gonna bring closure to this. Is, is your intention to plead guilty then?" said Sgt. Peter Tewfik.

"I haven’t made that decision yet. I gotta talk to my lawyer about what, what I want to do," said Snelson.

The Crown was able to get that statement before the jury by arguing it was relevant to the issue of guilt, and "inconsistent with innocence."

"It’s a confession essentially. And the jury could conclude -- and the jury could accept that, and that’s the obvious inference to draw, and a perfectly permissible inference to draw," said Crown Counsel Iain Currie.

The trial judge sided with Crown, but in their appeal document Snelson's defence lawyer successfully argued that the judge erred in that decision.

He said the prejudicial effect of the statement clearly outweighs any probative value.

"Once the statement was admitted and the Crown sought an inference of guilt from the content of the statement, the trial judge had an obligation to instruct the jury that no inference of guilt could be drawn from the exercise of the right to counsel," read the decision by Justice Elizabeth Bennett that was released Thursday.

"Instead, the trial judge reviewed the evidence as part of the theory of the defence, endorsing the Crown’s proposed use of the evidence, and compounding the error in law."

This piece of evidence was one of three pillars on which the Crown rested its case.

"It cannot be said that the verdict would necessarily be the same had the error not occurred.

Cusworth, who was 19 at the time of her death, was a first year college student.

She was last seen alive at an October house party, following a night of drinking.

Her body was found two days later in a ditch off Swamp Road. She had been strangled and bludgeoned to death. Snelson's DNA was found in the body.

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