Bullock trial goes to defense

(Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions that may disturb some readers. – Ed.)

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

EUREKA – Gary Lee Bullock’s murder trial has entered its defense phase, as Deputy Public Defender Kaleb Cockrum attempts to prove “by a preponderance of the evidence” that his client was legally insane when he allegedly killed Father Eric Freed on New Year’s Day 2014.

bullock copyIn this context, “preponderance” means it is more likely than not that Bullock was insane.

Cockrum’s task is to refute the state’s argument that Bullock’s repeated attempts to destroy evidence and cover-up the murder are proof prima facie that he understood his acts and rationally sought to conceal them – ergo, he was sane, not insane.

Cockrum is expected to offer the 10-woman, two-man jury psychiatric reports and Bullock’s history of drug abuse in defense of his client.

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Isaac rested the state’s case last Friday. He sought to persuade jurors that Bullock’s two attempts to set fire to the St. Bernard rectory where he slew Freed; his decision to throw the priest’s personal belongings off Miranda Bridge; and his attempt to conceal Freed’s car in Redway constituted the reasoned and cogent behavior of a murderer determined to escape arrest and punishment. He surrendered only when his stepfather turned him in to the authorities.

Forensic pathologist Mark Super, M.D., who has performed more than 10,500 autopsies, including 1,200 homicides, interpreted Freed’s comprehensive wounds for the jury, displaying scores of autopsy photographs, both mid-range and intense close-ups.  Super, the final prosecution witness, said the cause of death was either blunt force trauma to the head, asphyxia resulting from compression of the neck bones and cartilage or a combination of the two.

Super detailed comprehensive abrasions, contusions, bruises or fractures on Freed’s head, face, fingers and hands, underneath his wrists, up and down his arms and shoulders, on his legs, knees and ankles and on his back. Many demonstrated that the priest struggled to parry the repeated blows Bullock dealt him, the doctor testified.

Evidently Bullock used a section of white iron pipe and a wood garden stake with nails in it that he picked up as he reconnoitered the St. Bernard Catholic Church grounds before the murder.   

The attack may have lasted either minutes or hours, Super estimated, but whatever its duration, Freed was certainly conscious during some of it and must have experienced pain. He did suffer enough blows to the head to knock him out, however.

Nonetheless, Isaac pursued, “Could Father Freed have been awake the whole time?”

“Yes,” Super answered.

Isaac called the catalog of wounds “global” and placed the length of broken iron pipe (with a serrated edge), the wood stake and a jagged pilsner beer glass on the railing in front of the witness chair where Super was seated.

The pathologist affirmed that the pipe might have been used to inflict ovoid lacerations and bruises on the body and that the black flecks of metal or rust left behind on Freed’s torso might have flaked off from the pipe.

Likewise, Super noted parallel track marks (like a railroad track) on the flesh that could have come from the wood stake.

Super also supported Isaac’s notion that Bullock brandished the pilsner glass to puncture a hole almost all the way through Freed’s tongue, as his assailant drove the shard into his mouth. The tip of the tongue was torn, the pathologist testified, and the priest’s oral cavity was a bloody mass, as were his bludgeoned and bruised face and scalp, the autopsy photos showed.

The glass may have forced Freed’s tongue back down his throat, cutting off the oxygen vital to the brain, Super testified.

Under Cockrum’s cursory cross-examination, Super said Freed’s broken lower spine could “possibly” have been caused by a serious fall, rather than by blows with the iron pipe or the wood stake.

Earlier, on direct, Super had hypothesized the priest might have been choked by a forearm at his throat, with a knee in his back preventing him from escaping Bullock’s hold.

Cockrum asked desultorily if the pathologist could provide a more exact timeline for at least some of the injuries or whether anything could have been learned from the disposition of blood in the rectory’s upstairs living area, where the body was found. Super declined to speculate.

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