It was an emotional day at the Kelowna courthouse on Monday as Jennifer Cusworth’s friend offered tear-punctuated testimony about the last few hours the slain teen was seen alive.
Pamela Coulombe, 40, told jurors for the first degree murder trial of Neil Snelson, that she ran into Cusworth, who she’d been close friends with since 1988, at an Oct. 16, 1993, after-party on Richter Street.
“She came up right away and said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re here,’” Coulombe testified, noting that it was just after 2 a.m. and Cusworth was standing to the right of the front doorway.
Cusworth, she said, had a bottle of Sambuca she had brought to the house earlier that night, and the two went into the kitchen, poured a shot and drank it.
Then they, as well as three other friends, clustered together to tour around the two-bedroom apartment to see if they knew anyone there.
At that time in the morning, she said, the gathering was small—only 15 to 20 people—and populated by long-haired, head-bangers.
It wasn’t Coulombe’s usual preppy crowd, she explained, but Cusworth was having a good time and was “snuggly and cuddly,” which indicated she’d been imbibing.
“(She) appeared to be drunk,” said Coulombe.
“She wasn’t touchy feely when she wasn’t drinking, but she’d grab me and put me in a headlock. She was just there. She wasn’t like that with anyone else.”
In just over an hour, by 3:45 a.m., Coulombe was ready to call it a night, but not before arranging plans for Cusworth to crash at her house.
“Jennifer wanted to stay (at the party), she was having fun,” she said, adding a mutual friend of theirs agreed to take her back to her Bernard Avenue apartment, which was closer than her aunt and uncle’s house, where she was living.
As Coulombe was leaving, cabs filled with people were starting to pull up to the house and Cusworth was again standing at the doorway to the Richter Street house, where the two hugged goodbye.
Cusworth was found the next day, face down in a ditch on Swamp Road.
Following her testimony, a visibly shaken Coulombe was stopped by the slain girl’s mother, Jean Cusworth, who held her as she cried.
Coulombe was one of several witnesses Crown called over the last week to talk about the party, and their memory of the role Cusworth played within that setting.
The bottle of Sambuca has been mentioned by everyone from Cusworth’s uncle to Erik Mikkelsen, the man who held the party that night and acquaintance Marc Watzlawik.
To date, the handful of Crown witnesses who testified they had contact with Cusworth that night, also have consistently remembered the young woman smiling, laughing and having a generally good time. Many have placed her at the house doorway around 4 a.m.
Also testifying about the party Monday was Bart Ciancone, 45.
He had driven Snelson’s truck to the party after the bar closed, because the accused was staggering drunk.
From that point forward, Ciancone said his memories were sparse.
The party, he said, was really crowded with people who listened to “hard music.”
Snelson, he said, spent most of his time in the hallway leading to the living room.
When they left, with two others who Ciancone couldn’t remember the identity of, Snelson drove.
All he remembers from that ride is someone sitting on his lap, then getting out of the passenger side door and saying, “Nice meeting you.”
The trial is scheduled for three more weeks.