FRESNO, Calif. -- A suspect who claims the legendary apeman Bigfoot abducted a teenage girl was freed from jail three days before the scheduled start of his trial on child-stealing charges.
Fresno County authorities said they were forced into letting Russell Welch, 44, back on the streets to avoid 'double jeopardy if they later choose to charge the man with murder.
Welch is accused of abducting Theresa Ann Bier, 16, last June. The two went camping in the Central Sierra and the girl did not return.
Welch told authorities that the legendary apeman, also known as Sasquatch, had taken the girl. Detectives say Welch apparently sincerely believes in Bigfoot creatures and claims to have had continued contact with a tribe of them.
Deputy District Attorney Elvoyce Hooper Friday offered Welch a one-year term on child-stealing charges if would sign a waiver allowing for a murder trial in the event the girl's body is found.
But Welch's public defender, Mel Rube, refused to sign a waiver and Hooper said he was forced to drop the charge in case authorities later want to charge Welch with murder.
If the body is not found, Hooper said, he will probably refile the child-stealing charges, with a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
Welch had been scheduled to stand trial Monday. Rube denies his client had anything to do with the girl's disappearance but would not say if Welch is still contending that Bigfoot took the girl.
The double jeopardy statute prevents a suspect from being charged twice for the same crime.