SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — One of the three men convicted in the infamous 1976 Chowchilla school bus kidnapping has been approved for parole.
Before Wednesday’s decision by a parole hearing panel, James Schoenfeld, now 63, had been denied parole at least 17 times.
In 2012, the California Board of Parole Hearings ordered that Schoenfeld remain in prison. Prosecutors in that hearing had argued that Schoenfeld was "still too dangerous" to re-enter society.
Now, two years later, Schoenfeld has been given initial approval to re-enter society, although there are still hurdles to clear before he could be released.
A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman told The Fresno Bee that the decision will go through an internal review process, and then a parole date recommendation would be sent to the governor, who could let the parole order stand, modify it or refer it to the entire parole board for reconsideration.
In 1977, James Schoenfeld, his brother Richard Schoenfeld and Frederick Woods were sentenced to life in prison for the Chowchilla kidnapping. Richard Schoenfeld was released on parole in 2012. Woods was denied parole for the 13th time in November 2012, but he reportedly could be eligible again later this year.
On July 15, 1976, the Schoenfeld brothers and Woods hijacked a school bus in Chowchilla and then imprisoned the 26 children and their bus driver in a buried moving van. The trio intended to demand a $5 million ransom.
But after 16 hours, bus driver Ed Ray and some of the students were able to break through a covered opening in the van's ceiling and get everyone to safety.