Published January 08, 2014
A man charged with murder in the death of a California priest in a church rectory beat him with a wooden stake and rusty metal pipe then made two unsuccessful attempts to set the body and building on fire, police said in a court document obtained Wednesday.
Suspect Gary Lee Bullock rolled up the body of the Rev. Eric Freed in blankets and doused them with liquor before he tried to set them on fire, according to the police affidavit obtained by The Associated Press.
It said Bullock then tried to blow up the rectory of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Eureka by turning on the gas stove and leaving behind a lit cigar that went out before a blaze began.
"It could have been a lot worse," said Eureka police Chief Andrew Mills.
The affidavit signed by Eureka police Det. Ron Harpham was filed in Humboldt County Circuit Court in support of an arrest warrant issued last week for Bullock, 44, of Redway. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder with a special allegation of torture, arson and other crimes.
The affidavit said church surveillance video captured images of Bullock trying to open doors to the rectory, breaking a side window and crawling in. Bullock was carrying the same wooden stake and rusty white-painted metal pipe found inside that police believe were used to beat Freed, the document states.
"There was a large amount of blood about his upper body, his legs were badly beaten and his nose appeared to be misshapen," the affidavit said. "The suspect rolled the father into blankets, poured several bottles of 80 proof alcohol over the father and attempted to light the bedding on fire. A fire did light, but then extinguished itself."
In general, liquor has to be 100 proof or stronger to burn well.
"The suspect also lit a cigar, placed it on the gas stove, and opened up the burners so natural gas flooded the building," the affidavit added. "The cigar extinguished itself foiling the attempt to destroy the building by blast and fire."
Another priest found Freed dead in the rectory at 9 a.m. on New Year's Day after he failed to appear for morning Mass.
Bullock was being held on $1.2 million bail. A telephone call and email to Bullock's defense attorney, Kaleb Cockrum, was not immediately returned.
Prosecutor Elan Firpo said in an email that she was not aware of a motive for the slaying and did not respond to a question about what led to the special allegation of torture.
Police have said a passing security guard saw someone on church grounds about 2 a.m. New Year's Day and called authorities. An officer confronted Bullock outside the rectory, checked his papers from being jailed hours earlier for public intoxication, did a field sobriety test, and determined he was mentally competent to be in public, police have said.
Bullock was then directed to a shelter several blocks away.
Harpham wrote that deputies who had taken Bullock to jail said he "was not in a normal mental state."
The security guard, who does not work for the church, saw the man again about 3:30 a.m. and told him to be on his way but did not call police again.
Bullock was arrested on Jan. 2 by sheriff's deputies outside Garberville. Deputies said his stepfather was driving him to turn himself in.