Neil Snelson retrial for 1993 Kelowna cold case granted

Neil Snelson, who was convicted of manslaughter in 2011 in the 1993 death of a Kelowna woman, will get a new trial.

Man convicted of manslaughter in historic Kelowna case gets appeal for trial judge's error

Neil Snelson's defence lawyer, Wade Jenson talks to reporters after Snelson was convicted in 2011.

A man convicted of manslaughter in the violent death of a Kelowna woman that went unsolved for over a decade will get a new trial.

Neil Snelson's conviction has been set aside by the B.C. Court of Appeal because of an error made by the trial judge.

Jennifer Cusworth was found beaten and strangled after a Kelowna house party in 1993. It wasn't until 2011 that Snelson was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.   

At the trial, the Crown's argument hinged on statements Snelson made while he was being interrogated by RCMP investigators. The Crown argued Snelson implicated himself when he told police he had not yet decided whether or not he would plead guilty in Jennifer Cusworth's death.

The Crown urged the jury to come to the same conclusion. Lawyers argued an innocent man would have unequivocally said he was planning to plead innocent.

"Clearly the prejudicial impact of that was overwhelming," said Snelson's defence lawyer, Wade Jenson, who filed the appeal. Snelson, a father of four, pleaded innocent in the original 2011 trial.

Cusworth's childhood friend Jennifer Watson is devastated by the appeal. Only after years of the Cusworth family's persistence did the case go to trial.

"That's just one small detail, and it breaks my heart that they would pick on that one detail when there was so many other things, I felt, that were against him that caused him to be convicted," she said.

"I'm heartbroken and I can't imagine what the Cusworths are going through.

"It makes you angry. It makes you sad. It makes you have very little faith in our legal system," she said.

The Court of Appeal's unanimous decision to grant a new trial was released Wednesday.

Justice Elizabeth Bennett has ordered a new trial on the charge of manslaughter, for which no date has been set.

with files from the cbc's Luke Brocki