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Snelson Guilty of Manslaughter

Singer, songwriter, father of four - Neil Snelson has been found guilty of manslaughter for the beating death of Jennifer Cusworth.

After deliberating for three days, the jury returned its verdict shortly after noon on Thursday. 

Snelson had his head down and his hands were shaking while the verdict was read. He was not shedding any tears.

Jean and Terry Cusworth left the courtroom, composed, but visibly shaken.

Penalty range for a manslaughter conviction goes from a suspended sentence to life in prison.

The Cusworth's will be speaking at a press conference, with the RCMP, on Friday October 7.  

Snelson will be sentenced at a later date.

Her death became one of the longest unsolved homicides in Kelowna RCMP history.

On the morning of October 17, 1993, A Kelowna orchardist discovered the body of the 19-year-old in a ditch off his driveway on Swamp Road.

Cusworth was last seen alive at a house party on Richter Street at 4:30 a.m. on October 16, 1993.

Investigators say they believe it’s possible the killer was at the party, but admit there are few solid clues. Biological samples containing human DNA was among the clues found at the crime scene, but the technology to make use of the evidence was not available.

Despite interviewing hundreds of people who were at the party, police are unable to determine when Jennifer left and who she was with and the case went cold.

But Jennifer's parents would not quit.

Year after year, with the RCMP unable to find any solid leads, Jennifer's parents returned to Kelowna to coax the RCMP and the public to keep searching for clues.

 

On the ten year anniversary of tragedy, a native healing ceremony was held on Swamp Road as people sought comfort and a way to deal with how they felt. A killer was still on the loose and for police, the mystery continued.

In the end, time would be on their side. Science was catching up.

In 2007, the Cusworth's returned to Kelowna for their annual press conference and announced that a review of their daughter's police file was finished.

Retired Victoria police officer, John Farrell, sifted through 15 boxes of evidence and handed over his report to Kelowna investigators.

Farrell didn't find any problems with the police investigation, but did suggest they revisit certain people that need to be questioned again and to look at using better technology that wasn't available 14 years ago including enhanced DNA testing.

Meantime, Project SAFE is created by Avril Tory and Bethany Bedard who attended elementary school with Cusworth.  They began working with martial arts instructors and recruiting volunteers to help women learn how to defend themselves.

Two years later, this new DNA science would lead to a break through.

On October 16, 2009 the RCMP invited the press to the annual Cusworth conference and announced a major breakthrough.

"Investigators have determined that the DNA found at the crime scene belongs to the person responsible for Jennifer's murder." said Lead investigator, Cpl. Bill Parmar.

The DNA was that of a male and they were confident that, with the new evidence, they would solve the case.

"Although this person has not yet been identified, investigators are confident it is just a matter of time."

One week later on October 23, Neil George Snelson is arrested for first degree murder.

Cusworth's mother, Jean, spoke to the media shortly after the arrest to say Snelson has to come clean.

"It's time for Neil to tell the truth. To talk about what happened that night. Do it for yourself, for your family and especially for Jen. You owe her that much."

Cusworth expressed sympathy for Snelson's four children and wife who were thrust into the spotlight in the wake of Snelson's arrest.

"They now have to walk the path that we have walked for the past 16 years. It's with them now for the rest of their lives."

Castanet's Kelly Hayes reports

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