A Humboldt County Superior Court judge said on Wednesday that he will not be seeking a third psychiatric expert to evaluate accused murderer Gary Lee Bullock’s insanity plea, stating that he is only obligated to hire two.
Judge John T. Feeney stated that the court had reached out to a third expert in Los Gatos earlier this year, but also said that the expert withdrew himself as he could not perform the evaluation due to the distance. The court received the second psychiatric evaluation of Bullock on Oct. 9 submitted by Dr. John Chamberlain of the University of California San Francisco.
“I think counsel certainly needs time to review Dr. Chamberlain’s report,” Feeney said to attorneys during the late afternoon hearing.
Bullock, 45, is accused of fatally bludgeoning St. Bernard Catholic Church Fr. Eric Freed in the church rectory in Eureka during the early hours of New Year’s Day 2014 and attempting to burn Freed’s body and blow up the rectory before stealing Freed’s car.
Bullock was arrested a few days later at his mother and step-father’s house in Redway. Bullock had been released from the county jail a few hours prior to the killing after being arrested for alleged drug intoxication charges on Dec. 31, 2013.
Bullock was not present in the courtroom on Wednesday as his attorney — county conflict counsel Kaleb Cockrum — had requested last month to waive his presence for the day in case Chamberlain had come to evaluate him that day. The delay in the psychiatric evaluations also pushed back the start date of the trial for the sixth time since the case began nearly two years ago.
Last set for jury selection on Oct. 8, the case’s trial date was pushed back to Feb. 8, 2016 by Feeney last month as Chamberlain had yet to turn in his evaluation.
According to state law, Bullock’s trial will be bifurcated as a result of his plea. The first portion of the trial will have the jury determine whether or not Bullock is guilty of the charged offenses. If a guilty verdict is returned, the jury must then follow a section of the state penal code known as the M’Naghten Rule in order to determine whether the defendant was legally insane at the time of the accused act.
Under the rule, a defense of insanity can be found by a judge or jury “only when the accused person proves by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she was incapable of knowing or understanding the nature and quality of his or her act and of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the commission of the offense.”
The psychiatric experts hired by the court can be called as witnesses during trial and can been questioned and cross-examined by the defense and prosecution, according to state law. If Bullock was found to be insane by the jury, Feeney had previously told Bullock that he could face a lifetime commitment to a state hospital.