June 03, 2015 - 5:53 PM
KAMLOOPS - The last time Jennifer Cusworth’s friends saw her alive at a house party, they planned to get her home safely after drinking into the early morning hours of October 16, 1993.
For Pam Coulombe and Faith Klinksiek their plan didn’t work out; the 19-year-old disappeared from the party. A jury heard Coulombe and Klinksiek recount their memories from 22 years ago in Kamloops Supreme Court today, June 3, during the first day of Neil George Snelson’s trial.
Snelson, 48, is charged with one count of manslaughter. This is his second trial.
“(Cusworth) was pretty drunk. I didn’t know how she was going to get home. I had a discussion with her about coming to my house and sleeping (there),” Coulombe said this afternoon. "Then it was time to go and she said she didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay; she was having fun."
Coulombe said the party wasn’t overpopulated when she was there. She said Cusworth was the first person she noticed. Through tears she recalled their final interactions.
“She came up and hugged me and said ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’ (She) was drinking a bottle of Sambuca; I asked her for a shot."
Coulombe befriended Cusworth after the two moved to Kelowna from Nelson, B.C. where they grew up along with her roommate Klinksiek.
Coulombe said she left the party with a headache around 3:45 a.m. but told Klinksiek to keep an eye on Cusworth.
“I said ‘okay Faith, Jen’s going to come home with you,’” she said.
Klinksiek and Coulombe both testified they walked to the friend’s house for the party after bar-hopping in downtown Kelowna. Klinksiek said she briefly noticed Cusworth at one of the bars, but saw her again at the party.
“She seemed drunk, but mostly everybody was,” Klinksiek said. The friend testified she drank alcohol and did three lines of cocaine at the party before Cusworth told her she wanted to leave.
"I said ‘ten more minutes’ and she said ‘okay' and went back into the front room,” she said. But when she was ready to head home, Klinksiek couldn’t find her.
“I looked all over the yard all through the house, the garage,” she said adding she requested friends, including a cab driver to help her with the search.
A pumpkin farmer found Cusworth's body in a ditch on Kelowna's Swamp Road the following day, Crown prosecutor Dione Pizzey said earlier in the day in opening statements to the jury. The body sustained severe blows to the back of the head with signs of strangulation on the neck, she said.
Snelson’s lawyer, Richard Fowler, challenged both Klinksiek and Coulombe on their recollection of the party and compared their testimony to previous statements made to police and in a previous trial. Fowler also asked both women to describe visiting a psychic after Cusworth’s funeral.
"After the funeral do you remember attending a clairvoyant? Do you remember telling the police about that? After the funeral you attended at a psychic with (Klinksiek) and engaged in a seance,” Fowler asked Coulombe.
Coulombe recalled the visit, but denied the seance was an attempt to contact Cusworth.
Fowler pressed onwards and asked why a police officer noted Coulombe tried to reach the RCMP with information on Cusworth’s death allegedly obtained from the psychic. Coulombe said she couldn’t recall.
The defence asked Klinksiek why she told investigators conflicting statements about Cusworth wearing a skirt at the party one day, only to change her response the next day to say she wore pants.
Klinksiek said keeping track of the details was difficult "especially when you’re probably a little hungover from partying and in shock."
Earlier today, a prosecutor told jurors semen collected from Cusworth's rectum and vagina matched Snelson.
After Cusworth’s body was discovered, police handed out a questionnaire to those who attended the party. The Crown said Snelson told police he engaged in sex acts with two women at the party, but not with Cusworth. He said after he left the party, he met with a friend at a Denny’s restaurant before going home, Crown alleges.
But Pizzey said a friend of Snelson’s is expected to testify he never showed up at the restaurant.
Along with RCMP members who investigated the case, the seven-woman, five-man jury is expected to hear testimony from forensic investigators, the doctor who conducted the autopsy, friends of Cusworth, witnesses at the party, a witness who noticed a truck at the scene of the body’s location, which Crown said matched Snelson’s truck description, and the accused’s ex-wife.
The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.
-This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. June 3, 2015 with more details from the Crown's opening statement.
-This story was updated at 5:03 p.m. June 3, 2015 with testimony from Klinksiek and Coulombe.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015