The popular Eureka priest killed on New Year's Day was found bloodied and wrapped in bedsheets in the middle of his ransacked upstairs bedroom, where the door had been forced open and items were strewed across the floor, according to testimony Thursday during a preliminary hearing for the Redway man accused in the slaying.
Gary Lee Bullock, 44, is accused of attacking Rev. Eric Freed with a metal pipe and a wooden stake after breaking into the St. Bernard Catholic Church rectory through a window. He reportedly tried to blow up the historic building by leaving a lit cigar next to burners on a gas stove, and attempted to set a fire in Freed's bedroom.
Bullock has pleaded not guilty to attempted arson, vehicle theft and murder with the special allegations of torture and committing the crime during a residential burglary. He could face the death penalty. Superior Court Judge Marilyn Miles will determine whether Bullock is bound over for trial at the end of the hearing.
Eureka Police Department Detective Todd Wilcox testified there were empty bottles of whiskey at Freed's feet and several items were “pressed up” to his body, including a sealed offering bag, crumpled newspapers soaked in alcohol and a calendar that had been lit on fire. Pieces of weathered wood were found near the bedroom door, which had been forced inward from the hallway, he said.
”The body was on its back and it was wrapped, not covered, but wrapped all the way around with what looked to me to be bed clothing,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox testified the sheets and blankets were wet and the room smelled strongly of alcohol. Inside the bedding with Freed was a wood stake with red cloth around it, which appeared to come from a University of Southern California lanyard - one of Freed's favorite college football teams. There was also a metal pipe affixed with a piece of glossy magazine-type paper that appeared to be a picture of a nun, he said.
A warrant affidavit for Bullock's arrest states church video surveillance reportedly shows him breaking into a rectory window carrying a metal pipe and stick.
Freed suffered several injures, including a horizontal laceration on his nose, chin abrasions that appeared similar to rug burns, small pieces of wood were embedded in his knees, and there were scratches on his lower legs. Freed's chest had two circular “red injuries that appeared to be the same diameter as the pipe,” Wilcox testified under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Elan Firpo.
The coroner's office found Freed died of blunt force trauma.
There appeared to be bloodstains in the bathroom sink, shower and on soap bars stacked atop a plastic container of baby wipes on the vanity, Wilcox testified. A table in the sitting area of the bedroom had evidence of blood and hair, and a bedroom mirror had a large red smear in the middle. The marble top of the table was found several feet away. There were also red stains that appeared to be blood on a door and baseboards.
A neighboring room used for storage had additional signs of a disturbance. One item had been knocked off the wall, and there were impact marks similar to someone hitting the wall with a pipe, Wilcox testified.
Bullock whispered to his defense attorney Kaleb Cockrum several times during the hearing, and appeared to take notes during Wilcox's testimony.
Under cross-examination by Cockrum, Wilcox said it would not be immediately apparent that there was a bedroom past the front sitting area.
”I would agree with that,” he said.
Bullock was arrested in Garberville on Dec. 31 for public intoxication and released from the jail a few blocks from the church at 12:43 a.m. on Jan. 1. A police officer and a security guard separately contacted Bullock on church grounds in the early morning hours before Freed was found. Bullock's family surrendered him to authorities on Jan. 2.
The first responding officer also took the stand, testifying that the odor of natural gas in the rectory was so strong that he was “concerned about breathing.”
EPD Officer Alan Aubuchon said he was met outside by Deacon Frank Weber before he went upstairs to clear the scene.
Weber reported that Freed “was upstairs covered in blood, and his house appeared to be ransacked,” Aubuchon testified.
Upstairs he found Dr. George Zibilich standing in Freed's bedroom, and asked him to leave. The doctor appeared to be on the verge of crying, Aubuchon testified
”As he was exiting the room, he said something similar to, ‘He's dead,'” Aubuchon said, adding under later questioning that Zibilich appeared to have blood on him when he left the bedroom. Fearing someone might still be upstairs, Aubuchon said he went through all the rooms. He testified the odor upstairs was still strong enough that he was concerned he could ignite the natural gas if he had to fire his gun.
Aubuchon said another officer later told him he moved a “smoldering cigar” that was still smoking off the stove, and turned off the gas. The officers also opened windows to air out the rectory, he testified.
Testimony in the preliminary hearing was scheduled to continue Friday.