Jean Cusworth speaks during a press conference at the Kelowna RCMP detachment after Neil Snelson was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury. An appeals court has ordered a new trial.
Neil Snelson walked into a Kelowna courtroom for the first time Monday since a jury found him guilty in 2011 of killing Jennifer Cusworth. His manslaughter conviction was overturned on appeal last month, and he's now preparing for a new trial.
Still feisty and full of optimism, Jean Cusworth said the decision "shook us a bit," but she, her husband Terry and son Shane are prepared for the next round in this 20-year-old ordeal.
She focused right on Snelson, who looks balder and now wears glasses, as he entered from a side door and sat down in the prisoner's box.
"I usually glare at him. I smiled at him because I know he's not going to get away with it. I'm convinced," she said after the case was adjourned to set a trial date.
Jennifer 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, for first-degree murder in 2009 after DNA evidence revealed he had sex with her the night she died.
He was sentenced to 15 years for the lesser offence of manslaughter.
The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in December the trial judge was wrong to allow a statement Snelson gave police soon after his arrest 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 Crown argued the comment indicated Snelson 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.
Snelson has retained Wade Jenson, his original trial lawyer, to defend him again.
Snelson has been in custody since 2009, but Jenson wouldn't say whether he'll
apply for bail. He also won't say if he wants to move the trial to a different city.
Given the amount of publicity the trial garnered, Snelson will likely apply for a change of venue.
The Cusworths, who recently moved to Pritchard near Kamloops, aren't surprised, said Jean.
"I think he knows how Kelowna feels. He knows about this mass of people who want justice for Jennifer. He doesn't want to be around that."
If the trial does move, Jean would prefer to see it in Kamloops because it's close by. The Lower Mainland would be harder on witnesses, she said.
Support from strangers has been "overwhelming" since the conviction. People from outside Canada and even criminals behind bars have contacted the Cusworths to let them know they want justice, Jean said.
"It just blew us away . . . They wrote: 'We don't like when guys do that to women.'"
Snelson testified he had consensual sex with Jennifer in his truck at a crowded house party on Richter Street the night she died.
Jean believes he needs to take a sex-offender program. She's heard he took a dish-washing course but nothing else.
Some speculate Snelson may plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for a shorter prison term. Prosecutors won't accept a plea deal and want another trial, Jean said.
She's prepared to hear the same details, some of them gruesome, again. She considers the first trial a kind of rehearsal for what she calls the real trial.
"Snelson's weak, cowardly attempts to avoid that justice is just a blip on the road," she said.
Snelson appears in a Kelowna courtroom by video on Feb. 3.