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Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Father Eric Freed Murder Case

     Eric Freed, while living in Japan in 1979, was ordained a Catholic priest. Twenty years later Reverend Freed joined the greater Santa Rosa Diocese in northern California's Humboldt County. In 2003, Father Freed began teaching in the Religious Studies Department of Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. At the school, which is part of the 23-campus California State University system, Father Freed also directed the Newman Center, a Catholic student organization. In August 2011 Reverend Freed became pastor of St. Bernard Church in the coastal city of Eureka located 275 miles north of San Francisco.

     At nine in the morning, on New Year's Day 2014, Deacon Frank Weber went to the St. Bernard rectory after Father Freed failed to show up for morning mass. The deacon called 911 after discovering the priest dead from what appeared to be a head wound caused by a blunt object.

     At the murder scene police officers found signs of forced entry as well as evidence of a struggle. Father Freed was last seen at 6:30 New Year's Eve following the evening service. The victim's gray 2010 Nissan Altima was nowhere to be found. Investigators had no immediate suspect.

     Humboldt County Sheriff's Office deputies, early in the afternoon of Thursday, January 2, 2014, arrested a 43-year-old man from Redway, California named Garry Lee Bullock. The officers took him into custody for the murder of Father Freed near the southern Humboldt County town of Gaberville.

     According to investigators there was no indication that the suspect and the victim knew each other, or had met before the church break-in. Detectives believed that Bullock had broken into the rectory looking for money. When he encountered the priest, the two men fought until the intruder struck Reverend Freed with a blunt instrument, a blow that killed him.

     In tracing the suspect's activities in the days leading up to the murder, detectives working the Freed case learned that early Tuesday afternoon, December 31, 2013, Humboldt County deputies had arrested Bullock near Gaberville for public intoxication. After becoming agitated at the hospital where he was being evaluated, deputies handcuffed Bullock and booked him into the Humboldt County Jail.

     Just after midnight, January 1, the authorities released Bullock. A few hours later a security guard found Bullock loitering near the St. Bernard Church rectory. The guard chased Bullock off church grounds. This could have been just before or after the suspect murdered the priest.

     After he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession early in 2013, a judge placed Bullock on three years probation. The murder suspect has three daughters and once filed for bankruptcy. He has no history of violent crime.

     On January 6, 2014, the Humboldt County Coroner announced that Reverend Freed had been beaten to death with a wooden stake and a metal gutter pipe. Bullock, held under $1.2 million bond, pleaded not guilty.

     On January 21, 2014, Eureka Police detectives testified at the preliminary hearing to determine if the state had enough evidence to go forward with the case. When arrested for murder, officers found what looked like pieces of mushrooms in the pockets of Bullock's trousers. His hands were so swollen officers took him to the hospital for x-rays. The suspect's hands were also covered with abrasions from his knuckles to his wrists. Bullock also had scratches on his face, arms, and back.

     According to the autopsy report, the victim had died either of blunt force trauma to the head and trachea or by suffocation caused by compression or having a broken vase shoved down his throat. The prosecuting attorney told the court that Bullock had tortured Father Reed "for his own sadistic purpose."

     The judge ruled that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence against Bullock for the case to go forward toward trial.

     On November 4, 2016, a Humboldt County jury made up of two men and ten women, after four days of deliberation, found Gary Lee Bullock guilty of first-degree murder. Judge John Feeney sentenced Bullock to life in prison without the chance of parole.

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