In January Gary Lee Bullock was sitting in jail charged with the horrific crime of breaking into the rectory of St. Bernard's Parish on New Year's Day and murdering Father Eric Freed. Digging through court records, News Editor Thadeus Greenson learned that Bullock had been deemed "ineligible" by the court back in 2012 for a plea bargain agreement that was the result of a previous brush with the law. Why was he ineligible?
"There was reference to a probation report (under seal by the court)," Greenson said. "I read the law. ... I'm no lawyer, but it seemed to me it should be a public document."
Three months later, Bullock's old probation report — along with similar reports for Bodhi Tree and Vincent Earnest Sanchez, two more men awaiting trial for unrelated high-profile crimes — have been unsealed.
Why are these reports important? As Humboldt County Chief Probation Officer Bill Damiano says, crimes don't happen in a vacuum. The reports add layers of context to the current charges facing each of the defendants, offer insight into their lives and raise critical questions about their paths through the criminal justice system.
Greenson's story is on the cover of this week's North Coast Journal, on newsstands now, and available digitally
. Meanwhile, the Humboldt County Superior Court is reviewing its policies governing the probation documents and is expected to announce some changes this week. Check back to see how this story develops.
Curiosity. It's a critical trait for a reporter.