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‘He can’t hurt anybody else’: Accused in B.C. murder case dies in custody

Teresa Bartz, sister of murdered Willy Bartz, is feeling relieved after seven years of court proceedings
Willy Bartz (front left) was killed in Vernon in 2017. Here he is pictured with his father Zeke Bartz (front right), his aunt Mildred Davis (back right) and Mildred’s daughter, Terri Lynn Davis. The accused in Willy’s murder, Richard Fairgrieve, died in custody on the weekend of Feb. 17, 2024. (Submitted photo)

Teresa Bartz says justice has been served, just not in the way she expected, after word came to her that the man accused of killing her brother in Vernon in 2017 died while in custody over the weekend.

Richard Fairgrieve was charged with second-degree murder in October 2018, 15 months after 50-year-old Willy Bartz was found dead in a room at the Sundance Suites in Vernon. He never stood trial, as he was deemed unfit to do so multiple times due to cognitive deterioration, the result of multiple strokes suffered since his arrest.

When Bartz got the call from a Crown attorney on Wednesday that Fairgrieve had died of cardiac arrest, Bartz said it felt as though a weight had been lifted off of her, like she had “lost 100 pounds.” It reminded her of the feeling she had when she stood up in court on March 19, 2021, and forgave the co-accused in the case, Jacqueline Leavins, who moments earlier had been sentenced to 10 years for the role she played in the “extremely brutal” murder.

The case dragged on for seven years while Fairgrieve was held in a psychiatric facility. In November 2022 the B.C. Review Board reversed a previous decision that he was unfit to stand trial, and he returned to court seven months later. But after three days of testimony, Justice Alison Beames noted his inability to follow along with the court proceedings and again ruled him unfit.

Speaking to the Morning Star at the time, Bartz said she was glad with the decision “he’ll spend more time being found unfit than he would if he was found guilty,” explaining Fairgrieve would be released early due to the time he had already served if he were to be found guilty.

Fairgrieve’s last court appearance was in December 2023, when he was ordered to undergo another fitness test. That test was scheduled to take place in April.

Bartz says news of Fairgrieve’s death has given her a sense of relief that her brother can be at peace, and that his killer won’t ever repeat the crime.

“It’s over, and he can’t hurt anybody else,” she said.

Bartz said the murder was “brutal,” and while the Fairgrieve trial never occurred to reveal his side of the case, the graphic details of the murder came out in Leavins’ trial. Bartz attended the court hearings and saw photographs of the murder.

“I feel bad for the police, because I’m sure that has to be one of the most horrific scenes they’ve probably ever seen.”

Bartz said she’s kept in touch with Leavins after her sentencing, but said she felt justice hadn’t been seen through when Leavins was released from her prison sentence on parole just two years into it.

Bartz says her only disappointment upon hearing Wednesday’s news is that she won’t get to “speak my piece” to Fairgrieve.

“But I look at it as, we got the death penalty for him,” she said, adding that’s better than the outcome she expected to eventually come from the courts.

Bartz hopes people will remember her brother for his kindness.

“He had a kind heart and soul, and he would help anybody.”

She said anyone can pay tribute to Willy by simply picking up a piece of garbage.

“Willy liked to walk, because he would pick up garbage and try to keep the place clean … so if you’re out walking and you see a piece of garbage, pick it up and think of my brother.”

READ MORE: Accused in 2017 Vernon murder deemed unfit for trial, again

READ MORE: 10 years for Vernon woman’s role in ‘extremely brutal’ murder

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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