Man convicted of killing former LVR student given new trial
The 20-year-old cold case of a former Crescent Valley resident is now heading back to trial.
The B.C. Appeal Court agreed in a unanimous decision released Thursday to set aside the decision to convict Neil Snelson of Kelowna in the cold case killing of Jennifer Cusworth and order a new trial.
Cusworth, a L.V. Rogers High School grad, was studying social work at Okanagan University College and went missing from a house party Kelowna on Oct.16, 1993.
Cusworth was never seen alive again. Her body was found in a ditch on Swamp Road, on the outskirts of Kelowna.
The decision by the B.C. Appeal Court hinged on a statement made by Snelson during police questioning which he did not reply to the officers if he would plead guilty to the charge.
At trial, the Crown argued Snelson’s response that he hadn’t decided his plea was an indicationg of guilt, since an innocent person always say he wasn’t guilty.
The Crown urged the jury to come to the same conclusion.
But Snelson’s lawyer appealed, arguing the accused was merely asserting his right to silence, which cannot be used against him.
The B.C. Appeal Court agreed.
“The statement had no probative value and was highly prejudicial, as it is easily misinterpreted when taken out of the context of the interview as a whole and Mr. Snelson’s continual assertions of his rights,” wrote Justice Elizabeth Bennett.
“In my opinion, it should not have been admitted into evidence.”
Even after the statement was admitted — incorrectly — Justice Bennett added after the statement was admitted into evidence, incorrectly, the trial judge should have told the jury that “no inference of guilt could be drawn from the exercise of the right to counsel.”
Snelson was one of the 150 people at the house party from which Cusworth disappeared.
According to the police, they had allegedly found DNA on an object at the murder scene matched with Snelson’s.
Fifteen years later improvements in DNA technology enabled investigators to find 43-year-old father of four. He was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Cusworth family lived in Crescent Valley for a number of years while Jennifer their only daughter was going to high school in Nelson and Jean worked in the local school system as a principal.
Shortly before her death the family moved to Victoria and Jennifer moved to Kelowna to attend Okanagan University College to study social work at age 19.