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Jennifer Cusworth

The Canadian Press

Family and friends of a 19-year-old woman who was strangled and beaten to death reacted angrily outside court in Kamloops, B.C., after a judge sentenced her killer to 11 years in prison.

With time served and credit given at a two-for-one ratio while awaiting trial, Neil Snelson has just one year and nine months left to serve.

A B.C. Supreme Court jury found him guilty of manslaughter in June for the death of Jennifer Cusworth, whose body was found in a ditch outside Kelowna in October 1993.

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On Wednesday, Justice Dev Dley said the Crown had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Cusworth was sexually assaulted by Snelson before she died. Without that factor, a sentence in the range of 10 to 12 years was in order, he said.

"He was found guilty in two trials and gets a year?" Jennifer's father, Terry Cusworth, told reporters outside court.

The victim's mother, Jean Cusworth, called the sentence "unbelievable."

"We don't have a justice system," she said. "We have a legal system and it's badly flawed."

In 2008, RCMP focused on Snelson, who was at the same house party Cusworth attended. Police obtained his DNA, which matched semen found in Cusworth's body.

Snelson was charged with first-degree murder, but found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter by a jury in 2011. The B.C. Court of Appeal ordered a new trial after it found the Crown could not enter as evidence a question put to Snelson by police about whether he was going to plead guilty or innocent.

Snelson's second trial was moved from Kelowna to Kamloops after he requested a change of venue last year.

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Crown lawyer Iain Currie had asked for a sentence of at least 15 years, the same sentence given after the first trial in 2011. Defence lawyer Richard Fowler argued for a 10-year to 12-year term.

Dley said Snelson suffered while in jail and spent time in a psychiatric hospital as a result. He is estranged from three of his four children and his wife left him following the first conviction. He continues to deny responsibility.

His lawyer presented letters from members of Snelson's church in Kelowna attesting to his character.

"They did not, and do not, appreciate the dark side of Mr. Snelson," Dley said, calling it "a savage and violent attack on a victim who did not or could not defend herself."

Cusworth was drunk at the house party and her friends intended to keep watch on her. She disappeared in the early hours of the morning and her body was found in the ditch the next day.

Snelson has two previous convictions for indecent exposure. (Kamloops This Week, CHNL)

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17:42ET 16-09-15

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