Archive for November, 2008

1976 Chowchilla bus hijacker OK’d for parole

Posted on November 1, 2008. Filed under: Parole | Local: 1976 Chowchilla bus hijacker OK’d for parole

School bus driver Frank Edward Ray was driving a bus with 26 children from Dairyland Elementary School in Madera County on July 15, 1976, when three men commandeered the bus near Chowchilla.

One of three in abduction deemed suitable, but far from release.
By George Hostetter and Cyndee Fontana / The Fresno Bee

10/31/08 23:15:58
The youngest of the three men who helped kidnap a busload of Chowchilla schoolchildren in 1976 has been deemed suitable for parole.But it is almost certain that Richard Schoenfeld won’t taste freedom for “many decades,” if at all, said Bill Sessa, spokesman for the state Board of Parole Hearings. 

Schoenfeld, now 54, had been denied parole 20 times before a two-person panel meeting Thursday at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo decided he is suitable for parole. Sessa said he couldn’t comment on the panel’s reasoning because he had not received a transcript of the hearing.

Two victims in the school bus hijacked by Schoenfeld, his brother James Schoenfeld and Fredrick N. Woods minced few words Friday afternoon when told of the panel’s decision.

“I don’t think he should ever get paroled — none of them should,” said Rebecca Dailey, who lives in Pennsylvania and was 9 when she was kidnapped.

School bus driver Frank Edward Ray, now 87, expressed the same sentiment in nearly the exact words during a brief interview from his Chowchilla home. Ray added: “He buried 27 of us.”

Ray was driving a bus with 26 children from Dairyland Elementary School in Madera County on July 15, 1976, when Woods and the Schoenfelds commandeered the bus near Chowchilla.

The 27 victims were crowded into vans and driven to a quarry near Livermore, where they were placed in a buried, unguarded furniture van. They spent 16 hours there before Ray and two of the older boys helped them escape.

The kidnappers had planned to demand $5 million for their captives. But the Madera County Sheriff’s Department telephone lines were so jammed with panicked calls that they never got through.

All three received life sentences after pleading guilty in 1977 to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom. Richard Schoenfeld’s sentence allowed for parole; an appellate court later amended the sentences of Woods and James Schoenfeld to make them eligible for parole.

On April 28, James Schoenfeld was denied parole for two years. It was the 16th time he had been denied parole. Woods has a parole hearing scheduled for Jan. 5; he has been denied parole 11 times.

Lawyers from the Madera County and Alameda County district attorney’s offices consistently argued against parole for the kidnappers — and did so again at Richard Schoenfeld’s hearing Thursday.

But Ernest LiCalsi, the Madera district attorney, and Jill Klinge, deputy district attorney in Alameda, said a recent California Supreme Court decision made it more difficult for the panel to find Schoenfeld unsuitable for parole.

Before, even a model prisoner serving a life sentence could be denied parole based on the gravity of the crime. Now, the parole board must find an additional factor showing the inmate could be currently dangerous in order to repeatedly deny parole.

Both expressed disappointment over the panel’s finding. Said Klinge: “I’m not happy with the decision and I feel for the victims and the impact it’s going to have on them. … It affects them just like it happened yesterday.”

While the youngest Schoenfeld may be closer to remorse than the other kidnappers, he remains a follower who could be susceptible to persuasion if released, LiCalsi said.

Sessa said the panel’s finding Thursday was “just a very preliminary decision in a multilayered set of reviews. … A lot of people think, ‘He’s suitable for parole, he’s going out tomorrow.’ That’s not going to happen.”

Sessa said Gov. Schwarzenegger has four options when he receives the panel’s decision:

* Approve it.

* Let it sit for 30 days, when it’s approved by default.

* Modify it.

* Refer the decision to the full 12-person parole board.

“In almost every case in kidnap for ransom, these get referred to the board,” Sessa said.

Richard Schoenfeld’s 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom “multiplies by a considerable amount the time he would serve before he is paroled,” Sessa said.

Sessa said the amount of time has not been calculated yet, but “it would be many decades before he would actually see freedom.”

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