SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An appeals court has ordered that one of three men who kidnapped and hid a busload of California schoolchildren in a 1970s ransom attempt be immediately released from custody, unless prison officials object and seek to block his release.
The 1st District Court of Appeal said Richard Schoenfeld has served his sentence after 34 years behind bars and should be released from prison as soon as possible.
The appellate court said Feb. 28 the Board of Parole Hearings unfairly set his release date for 2021 even though it concluded he wasn’t a threat to society.
The court ordered Schoenfeld released immediately unless prison officials appeal to the California Supreme Court.
In a statement March 2, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Luis Patino said the Board of Hearings was “analyzing the First Appellate District Judge’s ruling and is working with their legal team to determine what steps they should take next.”
Schoenfeld, as well as his brother James Schoenfeld and another man, Fred Woods, remain in custody at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Patino said.
The Schoenfeld brothers and Woods each pleaded guilty in 1977 to holding 26 students and their bus driver hostage in a buried truck.
The three kidnappers, all in their mid-20s at the time, captured the nation’s attention when they used guns and nylon masks to commandeer a Chowchilla school bus. They then buried the children and driver in a truck underground.
The children all escaped without serious injuries after digging their way out of the buried vehicle when their kidnappers fell asleep.