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Eureka police: No reason to hold priest slaying suspect

  • This May 2012 photo provided by Lynn Enemark shows the Reve. Eric Freed administering First Communion in St. Bernard Catholic Church in Eureka. (AP Photo / Lynn Enemark)

EUREKA— When the body of the Rev. Eric Freed was discovered in the rectory of his church on New Year's Day, police immediately had a suspect: A man released from jail hours earlier who was spotted on church grounds by a security guard, questioned by a police officer, and then seen again by the same guard, this time holding a wooden stake.

With this coastal city of 27,000 mourning over the death of the popular and charismatic Roman Catholic priest, Eureka police and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department defended the decision to let Gary Bullock go free hours before Freed was killed.

They see cases like his every day. With no serious criminal behavior to hold him, and no evidence of a psychiatric problem, they say they had to let him go.

Priest Slain in Eureka

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"This was standard practice," said sheriff's Lt. Steve Knight. "It was truly a tragic, tragic event that this happened after the fact. Unfortunately, we release people from our jail because we have to, and they go commit other crimes. There was no indication of anything unusual here."

Police Chief Andrew Mills agreed. He said after the passing security guard noticed Bullock in the shadows of church grounds, the guard called police, and an officer confronted Bullock on the street in front of the rectory. The officer examined Bullock's jail papers, did a field sobriety test, determined he was mentally competent to be in public then directed him to the rescue mission a few blocks away.

"In this, I am satisfied our officers did what they could do, given the parameters of the law," said Mills, a former San Diego police captain who took over as chief two months ago. "The question becomes could we have done other administrative things such as taken him over to the shelter. Would that have been reasonable? We'll have to wrestle with these questions."

That frustrates Lisa Russ, who worships at St. Bernard Catholic Church, where Freed was pastor.

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