KELOWNA — Months before Mounties made an arrest for the murder of Nelson’s Jennifer Cusworth, they took a DNA sample that, for the first time in 16 years, cast light on the cold case.
As the trial for Neil Snelson started Wednesday in Kelowna, Crown counsel witness Cpl. Bill Parmar told the court that in the early days of January 2009, the old investigation was given a new focus. With the flow of tips drying up since Cusworth’s 1993 murder, the first order of business was to dust off and read through the reams of files that had accumulated.
In a matter of months, that process yielded a list of seven people of interest.
All were men who had attended the Richter Street party where Cusworth, 19, was last seen, but had yet to be ruled out as suspects. Consequently, the investigation focused on getting their castoff DNA samples.
The first man to be crossed off their list was found smoking outside a public building in Salmon Arm.
Parmar watched him from afar, and when the man walked away Parmar collected the snubbed-out butt, and sent it away for analysis. Results showed his DNA wasn’t a match to semen collected during Cusworth’s 1993 autopsy.
Three others were dealt with in a similar manner, Parmar said, but police tracked Snelson for the same purpose from May 19 to June 1, 2009, to no avail. It started to seem as though collecting a castoff sample would be unlikely, so the investigation went a different route.
The evening of June 18, 2009, Parmar and now retired Staff Sgt. Dean Filipchuk arrived at Snelson’s Glenmore Road home, to ask him and his wife some questions about the Richter Street party.
Speaking from his front doorway, Snelson told officers he had been at the party, but he didn’t know Cusworth and hadn’t see her at the party on Oct. 16, 1993, or the Bernard Avenue bar they also attended that night.
Regardless, Filipchuk broke away, went to his truck and brought back a photo poster of Cusworth, held it up and asked again if he knew the girl.
At that moment, testified Parmar, the tone changed.
“(Snelson) stepped back and said, ‘I’m not going to let you talk to my wife,’” said Parmar.
Filipchuk said that was fine, but then asked, “Is there any reason your DNA would be found at the crime scene?”
“No, no, I don’t think so,” Snelson replied with his head down, recalled Parmar.
Filipchuk, said Parmar, pushed forward and said, “Which is it, no, or I don’t think so?”
Snelson again deflected the question, said Parmar, but offered up new details.
After a night of drinking, Snelson “fooled around with” two other girls at the party, despite the fact he was married.
One girl he was “necking” with earlier in the night and the second woman he came upon when he was returning a belt to another woman. He had sex with the second woman in his truck, outside the party.
Filipchuk asked if they could meet and get that information on tape. Snelson declined the offer, and the officers left their business cards behind to set a date to do just that.
By the end of that summer, police attained a warrant for Snelson’s DNA. He was arrested the following October.
Parmar was the first of 45 Crown witnesses called, and wasn’t cross-examined by Snelson’s defence.
In her opening statement, Crown counsel Dione Pizzey told jurors they’d spend the next four weeks listening to testimony about that night, and the investigation that followed. The Crown’s case will involve watching videos and looking at photos of the crime scene.
Pizzey also told the six men and women who’d been selected as jurors earlier this week how Cusworth’s body was found covered in water, face down in a ditch on Swamp Road, on Oct. 17, 1993. She was strangled, but ultimately killed from a blunt force trauma to the back of her head.
There were injuries to her face and mouth, but no other bruising and her nails were intact.
Cusworth graduated from L.V.Rogers. Her mother was an elementary school principal in Nelson.