September 10, 2015 - 4:28 PM
KAMLOOPS —It’s been almost 22 years since the night Neil Snelson killed college student Jennifer Cusworth after a party in Kelowna in 1993 and now Cusworth's family has one week left to find out how long he'll spend in prison.
The 19-year-old Cusworth was found dead in a ditch on Swamp Road in Kelowna in October, 1993. The evening prior to her death she was at a house party on Kelowna’s Richter Street and left the house intoxicated. The case went cold for 16 years until Snelson’s arrest.
A jury found the accused guilty after Snelson’s second trial held in Kamloops Supreme Court.
CROWN THEORY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
In a sentence hearing for Snelson today, Sept. 10, Crown prosecutor laid out the Crown’s theory of why Snelson killed Cusworth. Currie said Snelson preyed on the girl after she left the party and sexually assaulted her before inflicting several blows to the back of her head with a blunt object.
“The Crown urges your lordship to find it a fact that Mr. Snelson sexually assaulted Miss Cusworth and that was the motive for why she was killed,” Currie said.
The single most important piece of evidence to link the two was the accused’s semen found inside the victim’s vagina. Without it, Currie said, the Crown wouldn’t have had much of a case.
"Outside of the evidence of DNA there was very little to link Cusworth to Snelson,” he said.
To support the theory of Cusworth’s rape, the Crown noted strangulation marks found on her neck and pointed to Snelson’s short but relevant criminal history: Two acts of indecent exposure, which included exposing his genitals in a public place.
Currie said while many of Snelson’s friends and family members have written letters to support the accused, he described him as a ‘man with a dark side’ who has made no efforts to rehabilitate himself.
“He has not taken steps to address his sexual urges,” Currie said.
The Crown drew heavily on a decision by Justice Alison Beames from a previous trial which agreed with the theory Cusworth was sexually assaulted before her death. However, Justice Dev Dley interrupted Currie’s argument.
“It matters not to me what was led at the first trial,” he said. “It wasn’t the same evidence, yet you keep pounding the table and asking me to follow (Beames’) reason.”
Because of the severity of the crime and the factors which aggravated it, Currie calling Snelson’s act a ‘near murder’ and submitted a sentence between 15 to 18 years in prison. He also requested the accused to be held at Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre as Snelson was released on bail over a year ago, but Dley denied holding him in custody.
DEFENCE SAYS SEXUAL ASSAULT NOT PROVEN BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT
Richard Fowler, Snelson’s lawyer, says Crown did not prove the sex wasn't consensual between Cusworth and Snelson - suggesting the sex could have taken place at the busy Richter Street party.
“We don’t know the circumstances of Ms. Cusworth leaving (the party). We have no evidence that she walked by herself,” Fowler said. “The (Crown) theory is highly speculative and has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Fowler also noted Cusworth’s body was found clothed with all injuries from the neck up. He said the evidence determined there was no trauma to her genitals.
Fowler asked for a sentence of between ten to 12 years for his client and said the accused suffered his own personal hardships after his first conviction, primarily a broken family and estranged relationships with three of his four children.
He said Snelson has found rehabilitation through his Christian faith and fellow church members and feels a ‘profound sympathy’ for the Cusworth family although he continues to deny responsibility for the crime.
Snelson has already served roughly nine years and two months in jail while awaiting trial. Fowler asked Dley to impose a sentence which would give the accused less than two years left in jail — leaving him to serve it locally at the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre.
CUSWORTH’S FAMILY SPEAKS OUT
Prior to hearing legal arguments, Cusworth’s parents, Jean and Terry, read their victim impact statement in court.
Both shared more about who their daughter was — what she loved, what she feared and aspects of their relationship as family members. They spoke of the profound impact their daughter’s death had on them emotionally while they fought to keep her name and case alive as it continued to grow cold over the years.
"She wanted to help make the world a better place and would have had a positive impact on the world. We know we can never bring her back, but we can try and give her the justice she deserves,” Jean said. "Despite being left with the emptiest feeling I’ve ever felt in my entire life, I still say goodnight every evening to my daughter and tell her I love her."
"I reject the term victim as applied to us. I say we’re survivors. Jenn was the victim,” Terry echoed.
Dley reserved his decision for Sept. 16.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015