Disclaimer: This story contains graphic details that some may find offensive
A woman has been given a 10-year sentence for the role she played in the murder of William Frederick Bartz in his Vernon apartment in July 2017, after she intentionally goaded her boyfriend into carrying out what she knew would be a serious assault.
As heard by those present at the Vernon Supreme Court sentence hearing Friday (March 19), Jacqueline Nicole Leavins played no physical part in executing the murder. And backed by a list of rehabilitative actions she has taken while in custody — a list her lawyer said was the most extensive he’s ever seen for a two-year period — Leavins said the rest of her life will be devoted to rectifying the lost life of the victim — whom she admired as a friend.
In July 2017, after inciting her then-boyfriend and co-accused to violence by negatively comparing his sexual prowess to the victim’s, Leavins had followed her boyfriend to Bartz’s apartment where the “extremely brutal killing” took place, in the words of Crown prosecutor Laura McPheeters.
In the statement of agreed facts, the court heard Leavins had arrived at the apartment to find her boyfriend hitting Bartz with a hammer repeatedly.
She went into another room while the murder was carried out in full, and sat in the apartment alone for some time before leaving the scene untouched. The murder was described as “prolonged and savage,” with multiple weapons used including a machete. A blood pattern analysis found multiple rooms had been occupied during the course of the murder, from which it’s inferred that Bartz was at different points on his knees, lying down and moving around the apartment. His body was discovered by a friend the next day.
Leavins, born in 1978, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter in August 2020 in relation to Bartz’s murder.
Arrested alongside her boyfriend on Oct. 12, 2018 on a second-degree murder charge, Leavins’ time already spent in custody leaves her with six years and four months of additional jail time.
Defence and Crown counsel presented Supreme Court Justice Alison Beames with a joint submission Friday. Beames agreed with the 10-year sentence, which falls at the high end of sentencing for manslaughter, given the offence was “much closer to murder than it was to an accident.”
The name of Leavins’ boyfriend — the co-accused in the case — is protected by a publication ban to preserve his right to a fair trial in the future, after he was found unfit to stand trial in January 2020.
Leavins’ guilty plea came seven months after her co-accused’s remand was announced. As the defense counsel stated, she was and continues to be afraid of her ex-boyfriend, and came clean only after he had been deemed unfit for trial due to a stroke that has left him brain-damaged.
Among the stated aggravating factors was the victim’s vulnerability — he had suffered a brain injury of his own after being hit by a car several years prior— as well as the fact that he was murdered in his own home, where he had the right to feel he was safe.
In the weeks and days before the murder, Bartz kept turning up with cuts, bruises and other injuries, according to accounts from several witnesses. Bartz had told those unnamed witnesses that the injuries had been inflicted by the co-accused.
The court heard Bartz had called his mother a month before his murder to ask for money to purchase bandages and medication, explaining that a man had stabbed him in the legs because Bartz was having sexual relations with his girlfriend. Bartz contacted his mother again two weeks later with the same request.
In early July 2017, Bartz told a friend — the same friend who would later discover his body — that Leavins’s boyfriend had hit him over the head with a steel chair because Leavins had made sexual advances toward him.
On the night of the murder, witnesses saw Leavins leave Bartz’s apartment and walk to the co-accused’s residence, which was just at the end of the Sundance parking lot.
“While there, she broke (the co-accused’s) back window, flattened the tires of his bicycle and sprayed pepper spray inside the house in (his) room,” reads the agreed statement of facts.
As an Indigenous woman, several of Leavins’s family members had survived the residential school system. Her own mother was murdered in 1985, and she was placed in foster care at the age of six. She was adopted at nine years old and experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her adoptive grandfather.
Defense counsel said Leavins had excelled in school and had graduated early, having completed university courses in advance. But her life leading up to the offence was “chaotic and unstable,” and mired in drug and alcohol addiction, as Justice Beames noted.
Appearing by video, Leavins told the court that at the time of Bartz’s murder, her life was so off-track she believes she would have been on a path to her own death if not for her arrest and subsequent rehabilitative actions. Her life, she said, had been spared by the life she took part in ending.
“Will was a really good person … someone I genuinely admired and I miss him, too,” Leavins said in her apology to the family members, several of whom were present in court and submitted victim impact statements.
On the several occasions in which the court heard the litany of injuries described in the autopsy report — dozens of stab wounds, incisions and blunt-force trauma — Leavins’ sobs grew more audible.
“I owe it to Will to become a better person,” she said.
Justice Beames said she was fully convinced by Leavins’ statement of remorse, and wished her “the absolute best of luck … in honouring (Bartz’s) loss of life by turning your own life around.”
Beames wasn’t the only one who was moved by Leavins’ statement.
In an unexpected turn of events, the victim’s sister, Teresa Bartz, stood up at the end of Leavins’ statement and asked Justice Beames if she could address Leavins directly.
Though taken off guard, Beames obliged.
“I know Willy would forgive you,” she told Leavins with an even tone. “And I forgive you, too.”
Just before that happened, Teresa had given her victim impact statement, describing the trauma and depression that ran through her family following the loss of her brother, particularly in her father, who died two months after the murder.
“He gave up,” she said.
In addition to her added jail time, Leavins is subject to a lifetime ban on weapons and explosives.