Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of evidence from a violent crime.
Was the murder of Father Eric Freed a carefully considered, premeditated crime committed in the course of stealing his car? Or did Gary Lee Bullock kill the Catholic priest in an explosive fit of rage that erupted amidst the hallucinations and irrational behavior of a man suffering a psychotic break?
Those were the two competing storylines presented to the jury this afternoon in closing arguments for the trial of Bullock, who stands accused of seven felonies including first degree murder, two counts of residential burglary, car theft, carjacking, attempted arson and torture. He has entered dual pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
Bullock sat relatively still throughout the afternoon, his chair angled toward the jury but his gaze aimed in the middle distance. He turned to stare each time people filed into the courtroom, perhaps looking to see if any friends or family were in attendance.
Prosecutor Andrew Isaac was first to make his closing remarks, and he began slowly. First he grabbed two large poster-board displays previously used as evidence in the case — the first showing anatomical diagrams of a human larynx and spine and the second an enlarged version of the annotated schematic diagram created by the forensic pathologist who performed Freed’s autopsy.
Still moving methodically, Isaac used small magnets to hang a blank piece of paper at the front of the courtroom and then took a felt pen to write the following in large letters:
Isaac turned to the jury and recalled the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Mark Super, who testified that a human will lose consciousness after 30 seconds without oxygen, but it takes two minutes without air to die. And he also testified that Freed’s L2 and L3 vertebrae had been broken in a flex injury, meaning his spine was bent back. Bullock, Isaac said, acted deliberately throughout the night of New Year’s Eve 2013 and into the morning of New Year’s Day 2014.
“You cannot — you cannot — you cannot unintentionally strangle someone,” Isaac said. He reminded the jury that, according to Super, Freed’s injuries were consistent with having a knee shoved in his back while being strangled with either an arm or a pipe, and the only reason to keep an arm or pipe on his neck for two full minutes “is to kill,” Isaac argued.
He pointed to the autopsy diagram, which was covered with hand-written notations describing the extensive injuries inflicted on Freed before he died. “If you do all that to someone and finish with an asphyxiation move that crushes the hyoid, thyroid and cricoid [in the throat], you’re fixing to kill him,” Isaac said.
Addressing the charge of torture, Isaac reminded the jury of the broken pilsner glass, which Dr. Super said was likely shoved down Freed’s throat, causing numerous mouth injuries.
“If there’s a clearer example [of torture] anywhere,” Isaac said, “I don’t know what it is and I don’t want to hear about it.”
The prosecutor went on to recount Bullock’s interactions with Eureka police officers and a security guard on the night of the murder, describing his behavior as “alert, oriented [and] responsive.” His body language in security camera footage is “smooth, controlled, nothing jerky, no arm waiving.” In one security camera clip replayed today, Bullock could be seen wiping the doorknob to the church rectory with his sleeve, as if to eliminate fingerprints, Isaac suggested. “He knows full well what he’s doing.”
As for motive, Isaac reminded jurors of something Bullock said to his wife in a recorded conversation from jail — that unlike the last time he’d been arrested and locked up in Eureka, this time he’d decided to find his own way home. He broke into the rectory looking for a way home and in the process got into an altercation with the rectory’s only resident, Father Freed, Isaac argued. And, showing further evidence of his rational thinking, he then tried to cover up the crime.
First he wrapped Freed’s body in bedding, drenched it in scotch and tried to set it on fire. He apparently cleaned himself up in the bathroom, since blood was found in the shower, on the sink and on some soap. Then he tried to set the whole rectory on fire with a lit cigar and a kitchen stove burner. And later he tried to hide evidence — throwing Freed’s belongings off the Miranda Bridge and burying the stolen car underneath branches and foliage on a remote skid road by his parents’ home in Southern Humboldt.
“From start to finish, Gary Bullock knew exactly what he was doing,” Isaac said.
Bullock’s attorney, Kaleb Cockrum, then got his opportunity for closing remarks, and he too began calmly. Standing at a lectern and working from hand-written notes, Cockrum thanked the jury for agreeing to consider both sides, count by count. The facts in such gruesome and heinous crimes can make people so angry and sad that they stop listening, he said. “I trust you not to do that. You were very carefully chosen.”
Cockrum allowed that the prosecution has proven some charges beyond a reasonable doubt, but he said they haven’t proven what Bullock’s mental state was on the night in question. “The district attorney’s office and I have very different theories” about the events of that night, Cockrum said. While the DA’s side takes the fact of the stolen car and works backwards to infer a motive, Cockrum said the evidence reminds him more of Plinko, the old game from “The Price Is Right” in which a disc is dropped onto an angled board and slides down, bouncing off metal pegs in a seemingly random path to the bottom.
The evidence, Cockrum said, shows that “Bullock was behaving reactively, not proactively, that day.” The defense attorney was not arguing that his client didn’t kill Freed. Indeed, he seemed willing to concede as much. Instead Cockrum was arguing against the charge of first-degree — that is, premeditated — murder.
Far from being deliberate and carefully considering his actions, “Gary Bullock was in a hot, explosive anger,” Cockrum said. “In my opinion he was having a psychotic breakdown.”
As supporting evidence Cockrum reminded the jury of previous testimony describing Bullock’s behavior before and after the murder. Before being arrested for public intoxication in Southern Humboldt on Dec. 31, 2013, Bullock angrily searched one neighbor’s house for his daughters, even looking in the freezer, and searched another neighbor’s house for his wife, checking in the microwave, according to testimony.
Bullock asked one acquaintance if she was his angel, and a sheriff’s deputy testified that he was making howling noises. He made nonsensical statements to other law enforcement officers and couldn’t remember why or when he’d been arrested, Cockrum recalled.
And then there was all that security camera footage, which Cockrum said is “about as creepy as any you can see.” But it shows Bullock acting irrationally — repeatedly taking his shoes on and off for no reason, for example. It shows him using debris to form a capital letter A on the concrete, also for no apparent reason.
When Bullock got back to his mom and stepdad’s house in Southern Humboldt, he made more strange shapes near the car and behaved insane, “ranting and raving,” wrapping bungee cords around himself and claiming to be the Archangel Michael.
A man who’s not capable of making a deliberate and considered decision about whether to keep his shoes on in cold weather is certainly not capable of making a deliberate and considered decision to murder, Cockrum said. Freed’s injuries were all “consistent with an explosion of anger, not deliberately considered decision-making.”
There’s also no evidence that Bullock deliberately tortured Freed in order to persuade him to give up his car keys, Cockrum argued. In fact, evidence showed that there was a key hook by the back door. Likewise, Cockrum said, there’s no evidence that Bullock got any sadistic thrill out of the experience.
Blunt-force trauma is a very painful and inefficient means of killing someone, he said, but it doesn’t mean there was torture.
Before Cockrum could finish his remarks, Judge John Feeney said he needed to wrap up for the day. Cockrum will conclude his closing statement Tuesday morning, after which Isaac will have an opportunity for rebuttal. The jury will then deliberate on verdicts for each of the seven charges, and if Bullock is found guilty the case will move to the second phase — determining whether or not he was sane at the time the crimes were committed.
- Jury Selection Begins in Trial of Gary Lee Bullock, Accused of Murdering Catholic Priest
- In Recorded Phone Call, Bullock Pleaded With His Grandma to Put Her House Up for His Bail
- ‘Bullock Intentionally Killed Father Freed,’ Prosecutor Argues in Priest Murder Case
- Jury Watches Chilling Security Camera Footage of Bullock on Night of Father Freed Murder
- Bullock’s DNA Found on Father Freed’s Body; Freed’s DNA Found on Bullock’s Clothes
- Autopsy Photos Show Brutality of Father Freed’s Death; People Rest Their Case Against Bullock
- High on Drugs and Foaming at the Mouth, Bullock was Delusional and Erratic Around Time of Freed Murder, Attorney Argues
- Bullock’s Insanity Defense Undercut as Drug Abuse History Revealed in Court