One of the three men responsible for kidnapping 26 school children and their bus driver in Chowchilla more than 35 years ago will be released from prison this month, authorities said Friday.
Richard Schoenfeld was convicted of the July 15, 1976, crime along with his brother, James Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods in a case that traumatized the small Central California town. Richard Schoenfeld is set for release "during the second half of the month of June 2012," California Department of Corrections spokesman Luis Patino said in an emailed statement.
Schoenfeld was scheduled for parole in 2021, the date last given to him by the state's parole board. But how that date was determined is at the heart of Schoenfeld's upcoming release.
In his email, Patino said the corrections department was informed that the state Supreme Court declined to review an appellate court's earlier decision granting Schoenfeld immediate parole. His department was legally obligated to release Schoenfeld "and will do so."
Schoenfeld received a sentence of up to life after he, James Schoenfeld and Woods buried their 27 victims alive in a Livermore rock quarry while planning to demand a $5 million ransom. All 27 victims escaped.
Schoenfeld, who was in his 20s when the crime occurred, was eligible for parole six months into his sentence, because laws at the time viewed him as a "youth offender," Patino said. Not until 2008 did California's Board of Parole Hearings
But that date was based on the number of victims and the fact that a sentence of up to life left "no determined end date," for Schoenfeld's sentence.
Schoenfeld argued for an immediate release, and the state's First District Court agreed.
"In keeping with our policy regarding the safety of the public, the staff, and the inmate being released, the exact date and time of release will not be made public," Patino said.
Patino said the corrections department is informing the victims and their families of the decision and that, in general, parole conditions include orders to stay away from the victims.
James Schoenfeld and Woods remain in prison and have not been deemed suitable for parole.
Rick Hurd covers crime. Contact him at 925-945-4780 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.