Editor’s note: This article contains graphic descriptions that some readers may find disturbing.
By Sam Armanino
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The man convicted of killing the Rev. Eric Freed on New Year’s Day in 2014 is seeking to appeal his sentence.
Gary Lee Bullock, who is serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole for the torture and brutal murder of the Eureka priest, claims his Miranda rights were violated during an interview with law enforcement on Jan. 1, 2014.
Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard in California’s 1st District Court of Appeals on Dec. 6.
Bullock, of Redway, was found guilty and convicted in April 2016 of first degree murder, two counts of residential burglary, car theft, carjacking, attempted arson, the infliction of torture and special circumstances in the slaying of Freed at St. Bernard Catholic Church. He was sentenced on May 11, 2016, and filed to appeal Feb. 14 of this year.
A key argument from the appeal hinges on whether investigators violated Bullock’s Miranda rights.
“… [Bullock] eventually asked, ‘Can I see a lawyer?’ ” the appeal states. “However, the detective neither stopped the interview nor took steps to clarify appellant’s intent. Instead, he continued to question appellant.”
The interview with Eureka police detective Ron Harpham and an unnamed investigator from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office on the day Freed was killed continued after the request for an attorney, according to the appeal.
The state of California disagrees with the assertion, stating in a brief that Bullock “demonstrated his understanding of his rights, and revealed his own motivations for continuing the interview.” The state argues that does not constitute a violation of Miranda rights.
“The District Attorney’s Office worked hard to ensure that we gave the judge a full and accurate account of the applicable law, and I believe Judge [John] Feeney ruled correctly,” the Deputy District Attorney Andrew Isaac, who prosecuted the case original, wrote to the Times-Standard on Wednesday.
Harpham could not comment on the case, according to EPD public information officer Brittany Powell.
“I spoke to Detective Harpham and he thought the case might still be in appeal,” Powell wrote in an email to the Times-Standard. “There was also a gag order issued. He said he would be willing to talk once the case is out of appeal and with the permission of District Attorney Maggie Fleming.”
The appeal cites three main arguments in seeking to overturn the murder conviction, according to a brief filed by Bullock’s San Francisco-based attorney Victor Morse.
Morse did not respond to a request for comment by Wednesday’s publishing deadline.
In addition to the allegations of a violation of Miranda rights, Morse states there was insufficient evidence to prove Bullock had the intent to torture Freed.
“Although the evidence is certainly sufficient to prove that appellant’s assaultive acts toward the victim caused pain and suffering, the prosecution failed to present evidence to prove that appellant committed the assaultive acts with the intent to inflict extreme or severe pain,” the appeal states.
The state asserts that, based on legal precedent, the circumstances of the crime, the nature of the killing and the condition of the victim’s body provide proof of the intent to torture.
“[Bullock] injured Father Freed from head to toe: tearing his nose, scalp, and hands; scraping his face, scalp, chest, arms, hands, knees, and toes; fracturing his skull near his eyes; bruising his temple, ear, scalp, abdomen, back, arms, hands, shoulder, and legs; and breaking his back.,” the brief filed by the state of California states. “… The injuries would have been painful. … Although the order of injuries was unclear, the forensic pathologist could tell by the defensive wounds that Father Freed was conscious while [Bullock] struck him.”
A third argument from Bullock’s attorney states the court violated a rule on multiple punishments.
“By imposing separate terms for both murder and torture, the court violated the ban on multiple punishment … as there is no evidence to support the court’s implicit determination that the torture and murder had separate objectives,” Morse’s brief states.
The state argues the rule cited in the appeal does not apply because the evidence of the crime showed the torture and the murder were achieved through different means.
“Father Freed’s death was caused by strangulation and/or head trauma,” the state asserts. “His death was not caused by his other injuries, such as the cuts to his tongue and mouth that appellant inflicted with the pilsner [glass].”
Katie Stowe is representing the state in the appeal.
Sam Armanino can be reached at 707-441-0509.