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A lying killer or an honest partier?

Don Plant

The Daily Courier

2011-10-04


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Neil Snelson is either an innocent man who had sex with a woman who was later murdered, or a lying killer who did a poor job covering his tracks, a jury heard Monday.
The six men and six women, who began deciding their verdict at
5 p.m. Monday, listened to both descriptions of the Kelowna man charged with slaying Jennifer Cusworth.
They can acquit him, or they can convict him of manslaughter or first-degree murder.
The large courtroom was overflowing with people sitting on the floor for the lawyers‘ final arguments. Snelson‘s parents, wife and sister sat behind him in the prisoner‘s box. Jennifer‘s parents, Jean and Terry Cusworth, sat with supporters on the other side.
Lawyers gave contrasting views of Snelson, whose semen was found inside the 19-year-old‘s body after she was killed on Oct. 16, 1993. Prosecutors say he abducted her in downtown Kelowna as she walked home from a house party, sexually assaulted and killed her, and dumped her body on Swamp Road.
Grant Gray, defending, said someone else killed Jennifer long after the party ended and Snelson had gone home. The killer dumped her body in the "cover of darkness" on Saturday night, "16 hours or more" after she walked away from the Richter Street party at 4:30 a.m. Saturday.
Wayne Risso, who owns the Swamp Road property, never saw her body when he walked down his driveway to fetch his newspaper that Saturday morning. He discovered it the following morning and "it was obvious," he testified. If it had been there Saturday, he would have seen it, he said.
There was no evidence of trauma or defensive injuries on her body, suggesting there was no sexual assault, Gray said. If Snelson had killed her, he said, why would he remain in Kelowna ever since?
Mentioning a belt to two police officers in 2009 is insignificant, Gray said. It wasn‘t used to strangle her, pathologists said. If Snelson killed Jennifer and tossed her belt near her body, he‘d know his DNA was in her body because he‘d had sex with her.
"What difference would it make if there was his DNA on a belt or not? It could have been from contact at the party," Gray said.
Snelson testified he‘d had Theresa Tatarin‘s belt in his truck and returned it to her at the party when she asked for it. As he walked back from the truck, he met a woman he couldn‘t describe and started kissing her.
Later at the party, he said he had unprotected intercourse with another woman in his truck - a woman he didn‘t know and whose clothes he couldn‘t describe.
Tatarin testified last week she never asked Snelson for her belt. She never liked belts and rarely wore them. Gray said she failed to remember much from the party, including how much she drank and whether she even spoke to Snelson.
Snelson was afraid to talk to police because he knew he‘d had sex with a woman and she may have been Cusworth, Gray said.
"When you consider all the evidence . . . and (details) the Crown says are suspicious, every one of them is consistent with the behaviour of a man who‘s afraid of, ‘what if it was Jennifer Cusworth I had sex with at the party?‘"
Iain Currie, who spoke for the Crown, said Snelson brought up the belt with police because he knew Jennifer‘s belt was near her body - a fact only the killer would know. The officer only asked why Snelson‘s DNA would be at the crime scene, not why it was in her body.
"The belt was the only logical place to start," Currie said.
The semen was also integral evidence, he said, not just because it was Snelson‘s. Pathologists testified there was "quite a bit of visible semen" in her vagina and less in her rectum.
Jennifer was walking around for at least her last half hour at the party before she walked home toward Glenmore, witnesses said. Two people on Bernard Avenue awoke to a young woman screaming. If she‘d been upright for all that time, the liquefied semen would have leaked out.
"Jennifer was not upright for long after intercourse before the time she died. The presence of semen in her vagina indicates she didn‘t walk around and couldn‘t have walked around for 20 to 25 minutes after sex without gravity taking effect," Currie said.
The least believable part of Snelson‘s evidence was his claim that he never knew it was Jennifer he had sex with. He testified he couldn‘t see her or the animal prints on her top when he kissed her in the backyard, yet other witnesses could pick out details of the yard through the kitchen window, Currie said.
If he was innocent, Snelson would have told police right away that he‘d had sex with Jennifer, Currie said. Instead, he denied he‘d met her and repeatedly said he didn‘t recognize her photo.
He told police he had sex with a woman who had straight hair, was five-foot-six and was "heavier." Jennifer had long, curly hair, was five-foot-10 and weighed 140 pounds.
"He didn‘t want to be seen with that girl in his truck," Currie said. "Mr. Snelson lied to you, straight out."
Snelson never got the chance to have sex with Jennifer at the party because people were watching out for her. She was drunk and hanging out - and sometimes onto - friends there the whole time, Currie said.
When a friend named Pam left the party, she asked Faith, Pam‘s roommate, to walk home with Jennifer. Faith asked Ron Glave to watch Jennifer for 30 minutes shortly before Jennifer left.
When Jennifer got impatient and confronted Faith in the kitchen, Faith told her "give me 10 minutes." Jennifer walked through the kitchen toward a side door about 4:30 a.m. and Faith never saw her again.
"There was no opportunity for Mr. Snelson to woo her in the backyard," Currie said. "There was no opportunity to walk to Mr. Snelson‘s truck, much less have sex."
If the defence theory is true, Jennifer spent 12 hours after the party drinking alcohol to keep her blood-alcohol content high before someone else killed her, he said.
She never would have called her aunt and uncle, whom she‘d promised to babysit for, or changed her clothes. And she never went back to the party house to retrieve her purse, which she left there.
To keep Snelson‘s semen inside her, she didn‘t urinate and would have had to spend the day sitting in a position so gravity didn‘t pull it out, Currie said.
Risso could have missed the body among the bull-rushes near his driveway that Saturday morning, he said.
"Mr. Risso was wrong. He walked past the body of Jennifer Cusworth."
Snelson‘s friends waited for him outside Denny‘s restaurant, where they agreed to meet after the party. They left after 20 minutes. Snelson said they were gone when he arrived and he went home about 5 a.m. His ex-wife Katerine Oysteryk was in bed and they talked, he said. Oysteryk testified she didn‘t know when Snelson got home and doesn‘t recall talking to him.
Snelson told an officer days after the murder his wife would know when he got home. In a questionnaire he filled out for police, all he said was that she was home, Currie said.
If Snelson didn‘t beat her to death, what motive did the killer have? The only person who had a motive was Snelson because he‘d had sex with her, Currie said.
Snelson said he never had a canopy on his truck, then changed his testimony. He kept his tools under the canopy and used one to bludgeon Jennifer to death, Currie said.
In his 2009 statement to police after his arrest, Snelson never denied his involvement in the killing. Currie closed his submission with several exchanges between Snelson and Sgt. Peter Tewfik, including one that suggests he was ready to confess.
"Is it your intention to plead guilty then?" Tewfik asked.
"I haven‘t made that decision yet. I‘ve got to talk to my lawyer about what, what I want to do," Snelson said.

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