Cam Fortems, Kamloops This Week
Family and friends of a 19-year-old Kelowna woman who was strangled and beaten to death in 1993 gasped inside the Kamloops courtroom as a B.C. Supreme Court Justice sentenced her killer to 11 years in jail.
With time served and credit given at a two-for-one ratio while awaiting trial, Neil Snelson has one year and nine months left on his sentence.
He was found guilty in June by a jury in Kamloops of manslaughter in the death of Jennifer Cusworth, whose body was found in a ditch outside Kelowna in October 1993.
Justice Dev Dley said the Crown had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Cusworth was sexually assaulted by Snelson before she died. Without that factor, a sentence in the range of 10 to 12 years was in order, he said.
“He was found guilty in two trials and gets a year?” Jennifer’s father, Terry, told reporters outside the courtroom.
Jennifer’s mother, Jean, related in a victim-impact statement in court last week that an attorney general once told the couple it was their duty to keep the case alive while police sought Jennifer’s killer. They appeared regularly in newspapers and on television, asking for help in the investigation while they grieved their daughter’s death.
“We don’t have a justice system,” Jean told reporters after the sentencing. “We have a legal system and it’s badly flawed.”
In 2008, RCMP focused on Snelson, who was at the same house party Cusworth attended. Police obtained his DNA, which matched semen found in Cusworth’s body.
Snelson was charged with first-degree murder, but found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter by a jury in 2011. The B.C. Court of Appeal ordered a retrial after it found the Crown could not enter as evidence a question put to Snelson by police about whether he was going to plead guilty or innocent.
Snelson’s second trial took place in Kamloops after he requested a change of venue last year.
Crown prosecutor Iain Currie asked for at least 15 years prison, the same sentence given after the first trial in 2011, while defence lawyer Richard Fowler argued for 10 to 12 years.
Dley said Snelson suffered while in jail and spent time in a psychiatric hospital as a result. He is estranged from three of his four children and his wife left him following the first conviction. He continues to deny responsibility.
His lawyer presented letters from members of Snelson’s church in Kelowna attesting to his character.
“They did not, and do not, appreciate the dark side of Mr. Snelson,” Dley said, calling it “a savage and violent attack on a victim who did not or could not defend herself.”
Cusworth was so impaired at the party that her friends intended to keep watch on her. But, she disappeared from the house in the early hours of the morning and her body was found in the ditch 27 hours later.
Snelson has two previous convictions for indecent exposure.