Jean and Terry Cusworth offered the picture of strength throughout the trial that put a microscope on the grisly details of their daughter’s 1993 killing, but when a jury of 12 delivered a manslaughter verdict that image was all but upended.
“I was a bloody mess yesterday,” said Jean, Jennifer’s mother, Friday morning. “In the room (where the family gathered after the verdict), I just dissolved.”
She’d been convinced the jury would see what she had since 2009, when Snelson was arrested. The man who “smiled, blew kisses and joked” before each day of his trial was guilty of first degree murder.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the verdict … I believe the jury did the best they could, but I believe their efforts fell short of the justice Jennifer deserved,” she said.
For Terry, the matter was less cut and dry.
He wasn’t as sure Snelson was involved with the killing of his daughter until he saw him take the stand in his own defence.
“It was when he started to give his opinion … it was the way he wouldn’t answer questions,” said Terry. “I couldn’t see how he’d been involved with Jennifer … and see the pole, not her top.”
Snelson, in both a conversation with police before his 2009 arrest and when he took the stand in his own defence, noted where his truck parked at the party he and Jennifer had attended 18 years earlier.
When he opened the door, Snelson testified, the passenger side door hit a pole.
It was called out by Crown counsel Iain Currie as an unusual observation, at the very least, considering Snelson couldn’t drum up a single memory of Jennifer. Not her height, hair, or clothing — all of which made her a stand-out.
Jennifer’s hair was voluminous, curly and auburn, and it added a couple of inches to five-foot-ten frame. As for her clothes, she was wearing a bright animal print top that was so loud, that it warranted comment from several witnesses.
The disparity in observation, argued Currie, was just one of several indicators of Snelson’s dishonesty.
Perhaps, said Terry, the jury would have seen what he did if previous criminal convictions had been revealed in the trial.
“It was hidden well,” said Terry. “It’s his past.”
The secret in Snelson’s past, revealed the Daily Courier Friday, but not allowed into court proceedings was that he was on probation for a sexual offence when he encountered Cusworth.
In Penticton in 1992, Snelson exposed himself to a woman and, although he pleaded not guilty, a judge convicted him of indecent exposure in the summer of 1993, and put him on probation.
That conviction was predated by another in 1987.
At that time, a 21-year-old Snelson was caught for exposing himself twice to one woman. The woman was walking with a girlfriend along Lake Avenue when she saw him touching himself in his pick-up. Three weeks later the woman was walking alone in the same area when the same truck approached her. Snelson got out of his truck and continued to expose himself.
The woman recorded his licence plate and reported the information to police. When it went to court Snelson was convicted and put on probation.
Since 1993, Snelson didn’t accrue more charges, but during his pre-trial, evidence that his predilection for unusual public behaviour persisted.
On May 21, 2009, when police were trying to get a sample of Snelson’s DNA, they observed him sitting in his vehicle at the Orchard Park Shopping Centre. Investigators went up to the window for a closer look, only to see Snelson touching himself.
That evidence wasn’t allowed in the trial either, but Jean agreed with Terry that it would have painted a clearer picture of the accused.
“What he did to Jennifer is an escalation of what he’s already been doing,” Jean said.
With a dissatisfying verdict to contend with, Jean said the next issue she’ll be tackling is the sentencing. Manslaughter offers the most wide-ranging sentencing in the legal system, and it can come with anything from a suspended sentence to life in prison.
The latter is rare, but Jean is determined.
Meantime, she’ll take a small amount of satisfaction in the limited victory she gained.
At the annual roadside ceremony, where the family puts carnations down at the Swamp Road site Jennifer, 19, was found Oct. 17, 1993, Jean had a message she’d been waiting a long time to give.
“Baby we did it,”she said. “We wanted more justice. But it’s a start.”