WOODSTOCK – An hour before the judge would sentence her son’s killer to 32 years, Nancy Fritch detailed the way her life has been haunted since Feb. 6, 2012.
She’s lived through panic and fear and has been drained of sympathy for patients at the hospital where she works. She’s seen psychiatrists and therapists since Jeremy Lechner died. Her efforts to avoid the pain include a suicide attempt.
Sometimes, she told the courtroom Thursday afternoon during the sentencing hearing for Richard G. Nielsen, she just wants one of those big, Jeremy hugs.
“Richard Nielsen stole that when he put a knife in my son’s heart,” Fritch said.
Nielsen’s 32-year sentence was handed down by Judge Michael Feetterer on Thursday for the stabbing death of Lechner. Nielsen, 53, who was found guilty of first-degree murder in August, will get credit for time served since the incident.
On Feb. 6, 2012, Nielsen and Lechner were involved in an argument that turned deadly when Nielsen stabbed Lechner in the chest, piercing his heart.
The incident took place at 7607 Orchard Road, Wonder Lake, the home of Lechner’s girlfriend, Becky Meyers. Nielsen rented a room at the residence but had been asked earlier in the day to move out.
Arguing for the minimum sentence of 20 years, Defense Attorney Bill Bligh brought up the disputed nature of the altercation that preceded the stabbing. During the trial, prosecutors and the defense presented arguments about who was the instigator, and whether Nielsen was told he wouldn’t be allowed back in the house the night of the stabbing.
Bligh also pointed out that Nielsen’s criminal past involves drugs and alcohol – not violence – and brought up the economic impact of jail time considering his medical condition, which includes liver disease.
“Even at a 20-year minimum sentence, he will have medical expenses,” Bligh said.
Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 35 years.
Thursday’s hearing included victim impact statements from four people, including Fritch and Tamara Odarczenko – Lechner’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of their six-year-old son.
“He will never get to see in person how much of a spitting image of his father he is,” Odarczenko said of her son, reading her statement from the witness stand. “Or how much of his personality he holds.”
After the hearing, Odarczenko said she was happier with the result “than if it would have been 20 years.”
But, “I don’t think 32 years is enough for the life that he took,” she said. Nielsen also gave an apology, standing and turning his attention to the portion of the gathering filled with Lechner’s friends and family.
He apologized to Fritch, to Lechner’s now-fatherless son, and to all the friends and family affected.
“There are no words that can express these feelings,” he said. “And so I say all that I can say. I am so sorry.”