Mad River Union
EUREKA -– Convicted murderer Gary Lee Bullock’s abrupt withdrawal Friday of his not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea opens the path to his sentencing on May 11.
Defense Counsel Kaleb Cockrum declined to disclose what led to the volte-face, saying he had advised against it and that the decision was solely his client’s. “We consulted about it and I support him in his decision,” Cockrum stated outside the courtroom afterward.
Prosecutor Andrew Isaac, who won Bullock’s April 11 conviction on a seven-count, first degree murder case for the blunt force slaying of Father Eric Freed in 2014, remarked,“The only person who knows [why he withdrew the insanity plea] is him [sic] and I wouldn’t believe it if I knew it.”
Not even Bullock’s mother and stepfather were aware of the turnabout, arriving at the courthouse about 20 minutes after the jury had been dismissed in the wake of the unexpected turn of events. Both parents were absent from the courtroom when the surprise was announced by Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney.
“They never tell me anything!” Bullock’s mother exclaimed in an aggrieved tone when a reporter informed the couple as they moved through the courthouse metal detectors before heading to the second floor.
“Is the defense lawyer still up there?” she asked the reporter plaintively while gathering up her shoes after the security screening.
At this morning’s brief hearing, Judge Feeney asked Bullock, 46 of Redway, if he had had enough time to consider dropping his long-held claim of insanity. The convicted killer of Freed, 56 of St. Bernard Parish, answered firmly, “Plenty.”
Feeney gave Bullock permission to return to his cell before the bailiff escorted the jury and alternates into the courtroom for the final time to hear the announcement of the killer’s decision.
The judge immediately lifted the so-called “gag” or protective order, allowing jurors and counsel to speak with reporters about how they reached their guilty verdict on April 11.
One of the two male jurors called the deliberations “very interesting,” saying the 12 took a straw poll at the outset, to gauge the tenor of the talks.
The choice between first and second degree murder “took a little more time” on the second day of discussions, the juror told reporters.
“Nobody got mad at each other,” he added, although there were brief periods of frustration. “Then we’d take a little break” and that would resolve matters.
On the other hand, a female juror said there were “some heated moments.”
Several jurors congratulated Isaac, who was quick to discountenance the praise. “Let’s face it, I had all the cards,” he said, praising Cockrum for making a maximum effort despite the compelling evidence against his client.
Jurors pressed Isaac on why he thought Bullock elected to jettison his insanity plea at the last minute.
The deputy district attorney speculated that one influence might have been a family meeting with Bullock in November 2013 when his stepfather, John Bruno, confronted him over his chronic drug abuse and encounters with the law.
“When is this going to stop?” Bruno testified at trial, recalling when he had pleaded with his stepson to turn his life around.