Bullock case: A complex trial in two phases

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

EUREKA – Because accused murderer Gary Lee Bullock has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on all seven felony counts, his case is being tried in two related but distinct phases.

Deputy District Attorney Andew Isaac’s burden is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Bullock is guilty on all counts, with the legal presumption that he was sane when he allegedly tortured and murdered Father Eric Freed.

Conversely, Deputy Public Defender Kaleb Cockrum must prove – “by a preponderance of the evidence” in the words of Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney – that his client was legally insane.

In this context, “preponderance” means showing that it is more likely than not that the defendant was insane.

It is the defense therefore, not the prosecution, that bears the “burden of proof.” This is also known as “an affirmative defense.”

Under California law, Cockrum has to prove either Bullock 1) did not understand the nature of his criminal acts or 2) did not understand that his acts were morally wrong. He does not have to prove both.

“Not guilty by reason of insanity” is known by the acronym NGRI. Under the California penal code it derives from a standard titled the “McNaghten Rule,” which arose from a mid-19th century British murder case. The rule, also called a test, is part of the “Victim’s Bill of Rights” formulated as Proposition 8 and approved by California voters in 1982.

Generally, if Cockrum were to win the insanity defense, Bullock would be committed to a state mental institution or a facility for the criminally insane instead of prison.

When District Attorney Isaac concluded his opening statement last Friday, Cockrum could have followed suit with preliminary remarks of his own but he waived the right, reserving it for later. So the jury has not learned the thrust of his insanity defense or what arguments he will present in support of it.

Cockrum has in hand at least two psychiatric evaluations of his client and certainly they will feature in his presentation to the jury. The evaluations were slow in coming and their sluggishness was one of the main reasons the case against Bullock, the subject of repeated postponements, is more than two years old.

Isaac limited his 45-minute prologue – neither lawyer’s opening statement is evidence – to the first phase. Perhaps he was aware, perhaps not, that Cockrum would forgo an opening statement about phase two, which enabled the deputy public defender to delay tipping his hand on the crucial element of the trial.

The fact Bullock is standing trial is an admission that he is no longer insane, as he claims to have been when Freed was murdered.

In pretrial interviews with prospective jurors, Cockrum mentioned Bullock’s history of drug abuse, but did not link it to the insanity plea.

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