Family of slain Kennewick woman OK with dropped charges

KENNEWICK — The family of a Kennewick woman found strangled in her bathtub 29 years ago said Thursday that they are at peace with a decision to drop charges against her accused killer.

Jack Welch, 56, suffers from dementia, is confined to a wheelchair and has "irreversible brain damage" after a 1999 fall down a flight of stairs, according to a medical report.

His Benton County Superior Court case for first-degree murder was dismissed because a state psychiatrist and psychologist who evaluated Welch found he is not competent to stand trial and is "not restorable" to competency.

"He got his justice, so that's all I can say," said Ruby Baugh, the mother of victim Rose Baugh. "We feel like the Lord's going to take care of him. We're at rest with it."

Ruby said she and her husband, Keith, were joined by the rest of their family at a Wednesday meeting with Prosecutor Andy Miller to go over paperwork, including a report from Eastern State Hospital.

"We're all right now," Ruby Baugh added.

Rose Baugh was 25 when her father found her dead in her 1711 W. First Ave. home. Baugh and Welch previously had dated, and Welch was a suspect in 1982 but police couldn't find enough evidence to charge him.

Thursday's dismissal of charges came two months after police arrested Welch in Lewiston after DNA testing identified him.

Judge Craig Matheson on Dec. 14 had ordered Welch's evaluation at the Medical Lake facility. In signing the dismissal order, Matheson said findings in the medical report were consistent with his review of the case and observations of Welch during his first Benton County court appearance.

Welch was not at the hearing Thursday. He lives in Lewiston with his mother, Peggy Klein, who is his primary caregiver, with help from his sisters, said defense attorney Sal Mendoza Jr.

Mendoza was appointed by the court to represent Welch and said he previously met with Welch and his family to discuss Welch's medical condition and the case. Mendoza said it was obvious Welch did not understand the legal proceedings.

"Mr. Welch and his family maintain their complete innocence with regards to this accusation. We are satisfied at least that the charges have been dismissed at this point," Mendoza said. "His family would have loved the opportunity to put forth the facts in this case that have not been presented, including the number of suspects that the state had at the time ... and the information about the polygraph that Mr. Welch went through at the time. ...

"Mr. Welch's family sincerely expresses their condolences to the victim's family," he said.

According to Herald archives, Baugh's body was found March 7, 1982. She lived alone.

Her father went to her home around 8:40 p.m., found the back door open, heard water running in the bathroom and found her face-down in her tub. She apparently had been dead for some time.

Kennewick detectives found her phone had been yanked out of the wall and suspected a struggle might have occurred because the living room was in disarray.

Days later, Baugh's aunt told the Herald her niece was afraid of one young man and had asked her parents if she could move home the day before she was found dead.

An autopsy showed Baugh was strangled and had cuts and scrapes on her left hand and face, and puncture wounds on her scalp. An officer who attended the autopsy said it appeared Baugh had had sexual intercourse before being killed, court documents said.

Semen was found and tested in 1982 at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab. DNA testing wasn't being used yet, and a suspect couldn't be identified from the blood tests conducted.

The case went cold until 2005, when Kennewick police Detective Rick Runge was assigned to take a fresh look at the evidence.

New testing of the sample in 2008 did not reveal DNA. Crime lab officials said it might have degraded in the 26 years since it was collected, court documents said.

But tests were recommended on DNA found in panties Baugh was wearing, and in August that testing returned a DNA match to Welch, documents said.

Welch and Baugh apparently had a history of domestic violence.

She was last seen or spoken to early Saturday, March 6, 1982.

When investigators questioned Welch about his whereabouts on that Saturday, he said he was at another woman's home from 6 to 9:30 a.m., then went to a tavern until noon or 1 p.m. He said he went home to sleep until the early evening, then returned to the tavern until about 10:30 p.m. before going home for the night.

Welch said the last time he saw Baugh was March 2, when he said he had spent the night at her home and sex with her, documents said.

A friend who had previously told police that Welch was with her the night of March 6 recently told Runge -- after DNA tests identified him as a suspect -- that he had become angry when she couldn't go out with him and left saying he would go see Baugh. She said she didn't remember talking to police after Baugh's death, but admitted she would have said as little as possible.

Welch was picked up Dec. 7 on a $500,000 arrest warrant and booked into the Nez Perce County jail. He reportedly had to be transferred from a wheelchair to a gurney to be taken to the jail. He was released on his own recognizance since he required 24-hour care.

Dr. William H. Grant, a forensic psychiatrist, and psychologist Trevor Travers interviewed Welch Jan. 19 and found he "was obviously and grossly impaired."

His mother told the medical experts that her son had drunk a half-case of beer daily for all of his life and had used drugs. He also was in a serious car crash in 1974 and hit his head, and in 1990 he fell from a scaffold and fractured his skull.

And in May 1999, Welch was "highly intoxicated" when he fell down a flight of stairs and hit his head on a sidewalk. He ended up in a coma for three months, an Eastern State Hospital report said.

Since then, Welch has had memory problems, is physically incapacitated and "unable to speak more than a few simple words."

The report also said Welch is "no longer dangerous."

On Thursday, Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said it's been a tough case, but technology and perseverance helped conclude it. But he said he would have preferred it not end in dismissal.

"Especially in a homicide case, you can hold a person accountable through the criminal justice system. And since he's not competent ... it's frustrating to us that you can't go through the entire process," Hohenberg said.

"From my perspective, I was a little disappointed. But by the same token we understand the facts of the case, and we're certainly glad we were able to identify who (the suspect is) for the family. But it doesn't answer the question of 'Why?' "

* Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com