The small-town girl liked to wear gold rings on one hand, silver on the other. She loved grilled cheese sandwiches, ice water and milk, made great crepes for her parents and played guitar.
The parents of Jennifer Cusworth, killed and left in a ditch more than 20 years ago, gave a vivid portrait of their daughter in a victim impact statement Thursday at a sentencing hearing for her killer in a Kamloops courtroom.
A jury found Neil Snelson guilty of manslaughter in B.C. Supreme Court in June.
“We love you and always will,” Jean and Terry Cusworth said in unison at the end of their 20-minute statement to B.C. Supreme Court Justice Dev Dley.
“We’ll miss you for the rest of our lives.”
Cusworth was found dead after attending a Kelowna party in 1993.
Crown lawyer Iain Currie is asking Snelson be sentenced to 15 years in prison, the same sentence he was given after his first trial in 2011. Defence lawyer Richard Fowler argued for a sentence of 10 to 12 years.
Fowler said the 15-year sentence proposed by the Crown is fit only if Dley finds beyond a reasonable doubt that Cusworth was killed in connection with a sexual assault.
Jennifer’s parents spoke for more than 20 minutes about their daughter, reading in part from earlier letters they’d written when police were still looking for a suspect in the cold case. From the prisoner’s box, Snelson appeared to read along and turn pages in the statement.
The couple painted a loving picture of Jennifer, a young college student studying for exams before she was killed.
“God, how I wanted to hold her one more time,” Jean said.
This is the second time Snelson has been found guilty and sentenced. The earlier verdict was successfully appealed and a new trial ordered after the appeal court found the Crown could not enter as evidence a question police put to him about whether he was ready to plead innocent or guilty.
Snelson’s second trial was held in Kamloops because of the publicity generated by his first trial.
Cusworth was strangled and suffered skull fractures from being struck in the head seven to eight times, a forensic pathologist testified during the trial. The Crown tendered evidence showing Snelson’s DNA matched semen found on Cusworth’s body.
Court heard Cusworth and Snelson had been at the same house party the day before her body was found.
A pickup truck similar to Snelson’s was also seen by a witness near where Cusworth’s body was found. Snelson was questioned by police in 1993, but wasn’t charged until detectives revisited the investigation in 2009.
Fowler said Snelson’s wife left him after his first conviction. He is estranged from three of his four children, aged 17, 16, 15 and 10.
“Mr. Snelson continues to deny responsibility for the offence,” Fowler said.
Snelson will be sentenced at a later date.
—Story by Cam Fortems, Kamloops this Week