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Snelson to get new trial date

A new trial has been ordered for a man convicted of killing a college student 20 years ago, and it will likely take place later this year.

Neil Snelson was charged with murder in 2009, after DNA evidence revealed he had sex with 19-year-old Jennifer Cusworth on the night she died. He was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He made a brief in-person court appearance in Kelowna on Monday, sporting glasses and a red prison uniform. He seemed in high spirits, smiling and nodding to friends seated behind him in the gallery.

During Snelson’s original trial, the Crown presented the jury with a statement he made to police after his arrest, stating his lawyer had told him not to say anything.

At one point, when asked by the officer whether he would plead guilty to Cusworth's death, Snelson replied: "I haven't made that decision yet."

The Crown argued that Snelson’s response indicated he was guilty, since an innocent person would never say such a thing.

His lawyer argued Snelson was merely asserting his right to silence, which cannot be used against him. Snelson admitted having sex with Cusworth, but denied killing her. The BC Court of Appeal agreed in a unanimous decision handed down last month.

Cusworth’s body was found Oct. 17, 1993. She had been beaten and strangled, and investigators also found semen, indicating she had sex close to her time of death.

Two days earlier, Cusworth attended a house party with about 200 other people, many of them drinking and some using marijuana or cocaine.

At some point during the party, Cusworth wanted to leave and became angry when one of her friends wasn't ready to go, the trial had heard. She walked out of the house in the early morning hours and was never seen alive again.

Snelson, who is now nearly 50 years old, was initially charged with first-degree murder. He was convicted of manslaughter after two days of jury deliberations.

He will be back in court Feb. 3 to set a new trial date.

Around a dozen of Cusworth’s friends and family members were also present at today’s proceedings.

-- With files from the Canadian Press.

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