Friends of Jennifer Cusworth were still fuming Friday after B.C.'s Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of the man charged with killing her.
Members of a Facebook group dedicated to the case were venting their dismay that Neil Snelson has the right to make bail and get a new trial even though a B.C. Supreme Court jury convicted him of manslaughter in 2011.
"I feel horrified for all the family, friends and witnesses that must relive - yet again - such a tragic loss for so many of us," Brenda Smith-Hall said in one post.
"It does make us question our justice system and have little faith in it," said Michelle Pezderic in another. "I feel for (Cusworth's parents) Jean and Terry. . . . Not what a retirement is supposed to be like."
In a decision released Thursday, the province's highest court ruled the trial judge was wrong to allow a statement Snelson gave police in 2009 into evidence. Snelson said "I haven't made that decision yet" when an officer asked him after hours of questioning if he planned to plead guilty at his first court appearance.
The trial judge, Justice Alison Beames, allowed the Crown to present the statement to the jury even though Snelson repeatedly told the officer his lawyer had instructed him to say nothing. The Crown argued Snelson's comment indicated he was guilty because an innocent person would never say such a thing.
The three judges who heard the appeal agreed the statement was "easily misinterpreted" given the length of the interview and the fact the law allows him to remain silent. They said Beames should have cautioned the jury they could not infer Snelson's guilt from the statement.
For friends of Cusworth who attended the trial, it's a small legal point buried in an avalanche of evidence against Snelson.
"All of my friends and family and anybody I've spoken to is appalled. We all are," said Jennifer Watson, a close friend of Cusworth's who attended much of the trial. "We're shocked and extremely disappointed in the judicial system and let down."
The fact Cusworth's parents waited 16 years before Snelson's arrest and sat through weeks of pretrial arguments and the trial itself is hard enough, Watson said. Now they have to go through it again.
"They're devastated," she said. "Christmas has been really hard for them. They didn't put up a tree for many years . . . I don't know if they are now. It's starting all over for them."
Cusworth was 19 when she was strangled, beaten and dumped in a ditch off Swamp Road in Kelowna in October 1993. Police arrested Snelson, now 47, in 2009 after DNA evidence revealed he had sex with her the night she died. A jury convicted him of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Watson and Cusworth were close friends in high school in Nelson and hung out for another year there. She last saw her friend in September 1993, just before Cusworth moved to Kelowna to study social work.
Snelson testified he had consensual sex with Cusworth in his truck at a crowded house party on Richter Street the night she died. Watson didn't buy it.
"I know Jen. She wouldn't have done that. It's a crock," she said.
The only upside, said Watson, is the possibility that Snelson is convicted again and sentenced to a longer term.
Some speculate prosecutors will make a deal with him so he's sentenced to a shorter prison term in exchange for a guilty plea. Watson understands that's a possibility.
"I can see why they'd . . . not go through the whole trial again, especially with the Cusworths being dragged through the mud with their mouths open. I can see why (the Crown) would want to, but I hope they don't."
Snelson appears in B.C. Supreme Court on Jan. 6.