First of 3 men who buried busload of children in local quarry could be released from prison in May

Court rules Chowchilla kidnaper, now 57, has served his time for 1976 crime

One of the three men who kidnapped a busload of Chowchilla schoolchildren in 1976 and buried them in a quarry in Livermore could be released from prison as soon as May due to a state appellate court ruling last week.

Scott Handleman, the attorney for 57-year-old Richard Schoenfeld, said today that he's "pleased" the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that Schoenfeld has completed his sentence for the crime, which received international headlines, and must be "immediately released on parole," unless the state files an appeal.

Handleman said the court's ruling will become final at the end of April so he's hopeful that Schoenfeld will be released in early May if the

state Board of Parole Hearings doesn't file an appeal.

California Department of Corrections spokesman Luis Patino said the board "is analyzing the ruling and is working with its legal team to

determine what steps they should take next."

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Jill Klinge, who has attended parole hearings in recent years for Schoenfeld, his brother, James

Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods, said she's "disappointed" by the court's ruling because she doesn't think he's suitable for parole.

The Schoenfeld brothers and Woods were in their early- to mid-20s when they ambushed a busload of school children July 15, 1976, from Dairyland

Union School in Chowchilla, a small farm community about 35 miles northwest of Fresno in Madera County.

The men left the bus camouflaged in a creek bed and drove the children and bus driver, Ed Ray, to the California Rock and Gravel Quarry in Livermore.

The kidnappers sealed their victims in a large van that had been buried in a cave at the quarry and fitted out to keep the children and driver hostage.

The kidnappers, all from wealthy families in the Peninsula communities of Atherton and Portola Valley, then demanded a $5 million ransom

for the return of the 26 children and driver.

The hostages escaped from the buried van more than 24 hours after they were first kidnapped when Ray and the two oldest children piled

mattresses to the top of the van and forced their way out.

The three men received life sentences after pleading guilty in Alameda County Superior Court in 1977 to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom.

But an appellate court ruled in 1980 that they were eligible for parole, ruling that the victims didn't suffer any bodily harm. A key sentencing issue is whether the victims had been kidnapped with bodily harm.

Richard Schoenfeld was denied parole more than 20 times, but in October 2008, a parole panel ruled that he was suitable for parole. However, the panel didn't set a release date for him.

But in August 2009, a second panel decided against granting parole to Schoenfeld, saying that a third panel should consider whether granting parole would be "improvident."

On April 5, 2011, the third panel held its hearing on the matter at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, where all three kidnappers are being held, and it ruled that parole would be appropriate for Schoenfeld.

But the panel said that based on its calculations Schoenfeld shouldn't be released until November 2021.

However, the First District Court of Appeal said the parole panel "erred" because it violated its own rules and lacked authority to increase Schoenfeld's sentence after finding him suitable for parole.

Handleman said he thinks the ruling means that Schoenfeld has been "unjustly incarcerated" since he was found suitable for parole back in 2008.

Schoenfeld "is clearly rehabilitated and is no danger to society," Handleman said.

But in opposing parole for Schoenfeld at the hearing last April, Klinge said she doesn't think he is eligible for parole, in part because of his participation in a scheme in which inmates falsified their prison work time cards in an effort to get more pay and another incident in which he used a computer without authorization.

She also said she thinks Schoenfeld "has a propensity to be a follower."

Klinge said today that in addition to still believing that Schoenfeld is unsuitable for parole she also disagrees with the appellate court's calculation about the proper length of his sentence.

Woods and James Schoenfeld haven't yet been found suitable for parole.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

— Bay City News Service


 +   Like this comment
Posted by mooseturd
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Mar 7, 2012 at 8:01 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

It's news like this that makes me think we should expand use of the death penalty. Life in prison should mean life in prison. I remember this event well. This scum should rot in prison until he starts his term in hell.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by My 2 cents
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2012 at 9:00 am

If there is no room in jail, or money for this immates, then give them the death penalty and problem solved. What they did is not forgivable, those children could have died. Let them die in jail or give them the death penalty but do not release them, they may harm others if allowed to be in the community.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sad
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2012 at 11:21 am

I went to grade school and high school with this kid. I remember when he and his older brother and friend committed this crime, horrible. But the crime never fit the kid I knew, he was shy, and nice, we played and swam at a neighbors house. It is/was hard to reconcile that memory with this crime. I want to believe that due to his youth at the time he just completely misjudged the consequences of his actions. And I to this day don't believe he instigated this crime, not that it matters. Certainly his punishment was just. I just wanted to put a bit of a human face on this. While many, many people understandably would disagree with me, I am glad he didn't get the death penalty and I hope and pray that he is reformed.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oh Mom
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm

All three of these turds should have fried. I recall this very well. They may not have caused substantial physical harm to the children kidnapped, but their lives were negitivly altered forever. The emotional scars never go away. All of those children could have died, as was previously stated. I get what Sad is saying, but, if someone is such a follower that they are willing to walk away from the good inside them to follow bad, they are just as dangerous as plain old evil....maybe worse, because they know better.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Suq Madiq
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Mar 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I drive by the site everyday and upon hearing this-just makes me gag. Maybe once he is out, someone will bury him.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Gomer
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm

As the good lord Beejus said, revenge is sweeter than forgiveness. Let 'im fry!

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Miss Vivian
a resident of Livermore
on Mar 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Unfortunately, our system isn't subject to second guessing. They men were tried, this one man has been judged eligible for parole,we don't get to redecide. I remember this case well, and I know it was most certainly a life-threatening situation. But a parole board did their investigative work and used their judgment.

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Allen
a resident of Del Prado
on Mar 8, 2012 at 8:41 am

The animals should have fried for what they did to those children, they should be paroled and sent to Gitmo cleaning toilets........

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of San Ramon
on Mar 8, 2012 at 10:08 am

I believe he should be released. under this condition: The release is publicized AND, out of the prison, he is taken by limo to Chowchilla and dropped off on Main Street. I know a good sumaritan would give him a ride...

 +   Like this comment
Posted by One of your neighbors
a resident of Downtown
on Mar 9, 2012 at 9:06 am

For people like this, gang members, and others of those that harm children we should send them to Afghanistan to work the bomb squad. They should be our first line of defense for the hidden bombs.

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