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Police say murder suspect tried to burn rectory

A man charged in the beating death of a priest in the Northern California city of Eureka tried to blow up the church rectory by turning on gas from a stove and leaving behind a lit cigar, police said in court documents obtained Wednesday.

However, the affidavit obtained by The Associated Press said the cigar went out.

The affidavit was filed in support of a warrant to arrest 44-year-old Gary Lee Bullock last week on a murder charge with special allegations of torture, arson and other crimes. It was signed by Eureka police Detective Ron Harpham.

The affidavit said church surveillance video captured images of Bullock trying to open doors to the rectory, breaking a side window and crawling in.

Bullock was carrying the same wooden stake and rusty white-painted metal pipe found inside that police believe were used to beat the Rev. Eric Freed, the document states.

"There was a large amount of blood about his upper body, his legs were badly beaten and his nose appeared to be misshapen," the affidavit said. "The suspect rolled the father into blankets, poured several bottles of 80 proof alcohol over the father and attempted to light the bedding on fire. A fire did light, but then extinguished itself."

In general, liquor has to be 100 proof or stronger to burn well.

"The suspect also lit a cigar, placed it on the gas stove, and opened up the burners so natural gas flooded the building," the affidavit added. "The cigar extinguished itself, foiling the attempt to destroy the building by blast and fire."

Another priest found Freed dead in the rectory on New Year's Day after he failed to appear for morning Mass at St. Bernard Catholic Church.

Bullock has pleaded not guilty and was being held on $1.2 million bail. Telephone calls and emails to prosecutors and Bullock's defense attorney were not immediately returned.

Police have said a passing security guard saw someone on church grounds about 2 a.m. New Year's Day and called authorities.

An officer confronted Bullock outside the rectory, checked his papers from being jailed hours earlier for public intoxication, did a field sobriety test, and determined he was mentally competent to be in public, police have said.

Bullock was then directed to a shelter several blocks away.

Harpham wrote that deputies who had taken Bullock to jail said he "was not in a normal mental state."

The security guard, who does not work for the church, saw the man again about 3:30 a.m. and told him to be on his way but did not call police again.

Bullock was arrested on Jan. 2 by sheriff's deputies outside Garberville. Deputies said his stepfather was driving him to turn himself in.