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Police arrest suspect in New Year's Day murder of California priest

Eureka Police investigate the murder of Reverend Eric Freed outside of St. Bernard Church in Eureka, California on January 1, 2014. REUTERS/
Eureka Police investigate the murder of Reverend Eric Freed outside of St. Bernard Church in Eureka, California on January 1, 2014. REUTERS/

(Reuters) - Police in Northern California on Thursday arrested a man suspected of killing a Catholic priest on New Year's Day, shortly after the suspect walked out of jail, where he had been held briefly for disorderly conduct, authorities said.

The body of Rev. Eric Freed, a popular priest who also taught at a local university, was found on Wednesday morning in the rectory of St. Bernard Catholic Parish in the coastal town of Eureka. Gary Lee Bullock, 43, was arrested without incident on Thursday in Bricealnd, a town 50 miles southeast of Eureka, Eureka police Lieutenant Steve Knight said.

On New Year's Eve, Bullock had been arrested on suspicion of public intoxication and was sent to the hospital because of "erratic behavior," police said. Later that day, he became more agitated at the hospital and had to be restrained and was taken to jail, police said. He was released from custody at 12:43 a.m. on New Year's morning.

Later, a security guard at the church heard noise, saw Bullock and told him to leave, police said.

At 9 a.m., officers were called to the church after parishioners found Freed's body, police said. Freed appeared to have died of blunt force trauma, they said.

Freed, who lived in Japan for 20 years, taught religion classes and East Asian calligraphy at Humboldt State University.

"This is a real tragedy," said Stephen Cunha, head of Humboldt's department of religious studies. "His major concern was social justice ... he lived it, he preached it, he taught it."

Bullock was being transported to Eureka on Thursday afternoon to face a murder charge in the killing of Freed, Knight said.

(Reporting by Teresa Carson in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

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