Kimberly Wear

Times-Standard

Editor's note: This report contains graphic content that some readers may find disturbing.

A Redway man was ordered Tuesday, Jan. 21 to stand trial for the savage beating of a Eureka priest after a preliminary hearing that included testimony from a detective who said Gary Lee Bullock was described as “zombie-like,” and called himself the “Archangel Michael” when he appeared at his family's Southern Humboldt house on the morning of the killing.

Bullock, age 44, has pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicle theft, arson and murder with special allegations of torture and committing the crime during a residential burglary. He could face the death penalty if convicted in the New Year's Day death of Rev. Eric Freed, a beloved local priest who had a penchant for language and taught in the Religious Studies Department at Humboldt State University.

”I order that he be held to answer on these charges,” judge Marilyn Miles ruled at the conclusion of Bullock's preliminary hearing.

The decision came after three days of morning-session testimony and the presentation of video footage that appears to clearly show Bullock arrive at the St. Bernard Catholic Church rectory door one hour after he was released from the Humboldt County jail on Jan. 1. Cameras around the church show him acting erratically for two hours before he disappears and returns on screen while coming out the rectory's back door just after 4 a.m.


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Bullock is shown leaving at 6:13 a.m., then going back inside a few times, before Freed's car is shown driving away at 7:01 a.m. Freed's badly beaten body was found wrapped in blankets two hours later on the floor of his ransacked room that showed signs of a struggle and attempts to light the bedding on fire, according to testimony.

Freed suffered numerous wounds in the attack, including four fractured ribs, a crushed larynx, scalp lacerations, numerous contusions and a fractured skull. An autopsy showed the bottom of Freed's spine was broken sometime after his death, according to testimony.

A Eureka Police Department detective who interviewed Bullock's stepfather on Jan. 2 testified last Tuesday that John Bruno described Bullock as “zombie-like” when he unexpectedly found him in his home on the morning of Jan. 1. Bruno also said Bullock was acting “high” and told him he was the “Archangel Michael.”

”He was whacked, that's all I can say,” detective Jon Luken testified Bruno told him.

At one point, Bullock went outside and began twirling a large pole. Luken testified Bruno said the action made him “uncomfortable” and he asked Bullock to stop.

Luken said his stepfather said Bullock asked him, “Do you know who I am?”

When he went inside to change, Bruno said his wife notified him Bullock was gone. He and a neighbor searched the rural property and that was when Bruno said he learned about a car on a nearby service road, Luken told the court.

Freed's Nissan Altima was found covered in branches, according to Luken. Under cross-examination by defense attorney Kaleb Cockrum, the detective said there was a symbol of an “A” written in branches on the ground, similar to one on the church's back patio drawn in debris.

Luken said Bruno told him Bullock returned around 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 1 and stayed overnight. He slept for an extended period of time before taking a shower the next morning. Clothes that Bruno said Bullock was wearing on Jan. 1 were collected in a bathroom and laundry room, including a bright blue shirt that he is shown wearing on the church's video. Luken testified the shirt had a large tear and brownish stains. He said remnants of mushrooms were found in the sweatpants, but did not describe the type.

According to Luken's testimony, Bruno said he started driving Bullock to meet with law enforcement after receiving a call from Bullock's wife on Jan. 2, the same day Eureka Police chief Andrew Mills announced a warrant for Bullock had been issued in connection with Freed's death. 

Bullock was wearing a rosary that his mother had given him and knew his family was surrendering him, according to Luken.

”He was cooperative,” Luken said.

The case's lead detective, Ron Harpham, testified Tuesday that Bullock's main injuries were swollen hands. He also had scratches from his “ankle to his head,” and a large bruise on his hip.

”Both of his hands were extremely swollen, so much so we took him to the hospital to have them X-rayed before he was taken to jail,” Harpham said.

Deputy district attorney Elan Firpo told the court that evidence showed Freed never fought back, but only attempted to fend off Bullock's attack using his hands and arms before curling up in a ball to protect himself.

”Gary Lee Bullock murdered Father Freed with an extreme infliction of physical pain and suffering, and did so for his own sadistic purpose,” she said.

EPD detective John Gordon testified a forensic pathologist found three contributing factors for Freed's death: blunt force trauma to the head, trauma to the trachea, and suffocation caused by compression rather than strangulation that was likely inflicted by a broken vase being forced down his throat.

Bullock also allegedly tried to set Freed's body on fire then blow up the rectory by leaving a lit cigar on the stove with the gas left on, according to the prosecution.

One of the first responding officers testified last week that the smell of natural gas was so strong he was concerned about breathing, and starting a fire if he had to fire his weapon. He said another officer turned off the gas and moved a still smoldering cigar from the stove. The officers also opened windows.

”It's by a narrow margin that the rectory did not catch fire and explode while the church was filling with parishioners,” Firpo said.

Bullock's attorney Kaleb Cockrum argued the prosecution had not presented enough evidence for the special allegations of burglary and torture before Miles ruled the case would move forward.

Bullock is scheduled to be back in court on Feb. 5.