Disturbing New Details Emerge in Priest’s Murder Investigation

EUREKA, Calif. (TheBlaze/AP) —The shocking investigation surrounding the murder of the Rev. Eric Freed, a revered priest in Northern California, has taken another turn, as authorities claim that a man charged in the faith leader’s death also tried to burn the Freed’s body — and blow up the church rectory.

Police claim 44-year-old Gary Lee Bullock turned the gas on from a stove and left a lit cigar nearby. While this could have certainly caused major damage to the rectory, the cigar apparently went out, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Bullock also allegedly attempted, but failed, to burn Freed’s body.

This undated photo provided by Lynn Enemark shows the Rev. Eric Freed in St. Bernard Catholic Church in Eureka, Calif. Freed was found slain in the church rectory on New Year’s Day. (Credit: AP Photo/Lynn Enemark)

The affidavit was filed in support of a warrant to arrest Bullock last week on a murder charge with special allegations of torture, arson and other crimes. It was signed by Eureka police Detective Ron Harpham.

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.

Laura Martinez, center, prays at the interment for Father Eric Freed at the St. Bernard’s Cemetery in Eureka, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. Gary Lee Bullock, 43, of Redway, Calif., was taken into custody by Humboldt County deputies in the killing of Freed. (Credit: AP Photo/Times-Standard, Nick Adams)

“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 on New Year’s Day after he failed to appear for morning Mass at St. Bernard Catholic Church.

Bullock has pleaded not guilty and was being held on $1.2 million bail. Telephone calls and emails to prosecutors and Bullock’s defense attorney were not immediately returned.

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.

Ranjan Hatch kneels in front of a memorial left for Father Eric Freed outside of St. Bernard Catholic Church, where Freed was found slain in the rectory on New Year’s Day, in Eureka, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. (Credit: AP Photo/The Times-Standard, Nick Adams)

As TheBlaze previously reported, Freed has been described as well-liked and kind by those who knew him.

“He was a really, genuinely warm individual,” Professor Stephen Cunha, chair of Humboldt University’s religious studies department, told CNN. “Kind is the word that comes to mind, sensitive.”

The priest taught at the university for 10 years.

Freed, who came to  St. Bernard Church just three years ago, posted a letter before the holidays telling parishioners how proud he was to be their pastor.

“Our parish is alive, joyful, and full of faith, hope, and charity that define us as Catholic Christians. Our efforts in our faith journey will certainly help to make this Christmas also very, very special,” he wrote.

The church has posted a pictorial tribute of a Christian cross with the words “rest in peace” on the house of worship’s official website.