MERCED, Calif. (AP) — A California sheriff says a "screw-up" led to the mistaken release of an inmate who had pleaded guilty to child molestation.

The Merced Sun-Star reported Thursday that Merced County jailers mistakenly allowed 38-year-old Primitivo Gonzalez to post bail on Nov. 22.

Gonzalez had pleaded guilty to repeatedly molesting a 5-year-old girl.

A judge had ordered him held without bail until sentencing, when he faced 35 years-to-life in prison.

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Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke says he takes responsibility for the mistaken release and has taken steps to prevent a repeat.

The sheriff defends not making public the man's release.

He says he believed Gonzalez quickly returned to Mexico and is no longer a threat in Merced County.

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Information from: Merced Sun-Star, http://www.mercedsun-star.com