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Friday, May 1, 2020

The Father Eric Freed Murder Case

     Eric Freed, while living in Japan in 1979, became 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 near the southern Humboldt County town of Gaberville.

     According to investigators, there was no indication that the murder suspect and the victim had known 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, 2014, 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 happened just before or after the suspect had murdered Father Freed.

     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 at the preliminary hearing to determine if the state had enough evidence to go forward with the Bullock case, testified that when they arrested Bullock for the murder of the priest, they found what looked like pieces of mushrooms in the pockets of his trousers. Moreover, the suspect's hands were so swollen and covered with abrasions, officers took him to the hospital for x-rays. 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 said the suspect 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 to 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.

     In December 2017, a panel of California appellate court justices rejected Gary Lee Bullock's bid to to overturn his life without parole sentence.

3 comments:

  1. We only wish a blow to the head had ended his life, the brutality of the torture he suffered was extreme.

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  2. Reading the account of Bullock's behavior on the day of his killing of Father Freed, I am puzzled that he was judged sane when he killed Father Freed.

    I think responsibility for Father Freed's death should be put on the heads of those responsible for providing adequate care to the mentally ill.

    ReplyDelete