January 7

Coroner: Calif. priest beaten to death with stake, pipe

The Rev. Eric Freed’s body was discovered when he didn’t show up to say Mass the morning of New Year’s Day.

By Jeff Barnard
The Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — A beloved priest who was killed in the Northern California city of Eureka was beaten to death with a wooden stake and a metal gutter pipe, his autopsy shows.

Humboldt County Coroner Dave Parris said Monday that investigators don’t want to release more details of how the Rev. Eric Freed was beaten, pending further investigation.

But at his arraignment, Gary Lee Bullock, 44, of Humboldt County, was charged with murder with a special allegation of torture. He is also charged with burglary, arson and auto theft.

Bullock pleaded not guilty and bail was set at $1.2 million, according to court records.

“I don’t think we have a clear motive we are willing to speak about at this point,” said Police Chief Andrew Mills. “There was significant evidence at the scene to suggest he tried to set the house on fire.”

Meanwhile, a funeral Mass was held Monday for Freed at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Eureka. Parishioner Lynn Enemark said more than 1,000 people filled the church to overflowing. Bishop Robert F. Vasa officiated, and priests from around California attended.

Authorities have said Bullock was released from jail on a disorderly conduct charge several hours before Freed was killed in the rectory at St. Bernard Catholic Church. The jail is near the church.

Mills said Bullock was visible on surveillance video from outside the church and rectory, and the attacker got inside the rectory by breaking a side window.

The slaying occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, Parris said. A more precise time of death must await further analysis of the evidence.

A passing security guard saw Bullock on church grounds at about 2 a.m. New Year’s Day and called police. An officer confronted Bullock in front of the rectory, checked his jail papers, did a field sobriety test, and determined he was mentally competent to be in public, then directed him to a shelter several blocks away, police have said.

The security guard, who does not work for the church, saw Bullock again at about 3:30 a.m. and told him again to be on his way but did not call police again.

Freed’s body was discovered when he didn’t show up to say Mass the morning of New Year’s Day.

Bullock was arrested Thursday by sheriff’s deputies outside Garberville. Deputies said his stepfather was driving him to Garberville to turn himself in.

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