Parole Board Confirms Release of School Bus Hijacker

Newsom asks commissioners to reconsider freedom for man who buried children and driver
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 17, 2022 6:55 PM CDT
Newsom Objects to Parole for 1976 School Bus Hijacker
This Oct. 29, 2021, photo provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Frederick Woods.   (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

(Newser) – The last of three men convicted of hijacking a school bus full of California children for an attempted $5 million ransom in 1976, in what a prosecutor called "the largest mass kidnapping in US history," is being released by the state's parole board. Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the board to reconsider its decision to parole Frederick Woods, 70, on Tuesday after two commissioners recommended his release in March when previous panels had denied him parole 17 times. But the board affirmed that decision, the AP reports. Woods and his accomplices, brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, were from wealthy San Francisco Bay Area families. They kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver near Chowchilla, about 125 miles southeast of San Francisco.

The three buried the children, ages 5 to 14, along with their bus driver in an old moving van east of San Francisco with little ventilation, light, water, food, or bathroom supplies. The victims were able to dig their way out more than a day later. Newsom said Woods "continued to engage in financial related-misconduct in prison," using a contraband cellphone to give advice on running a Christmas tree farm, a gold mining business, and a car dealership. The governor couldn't block Woods' release because he's not convicted of murder; Newsom could only urge the parole board to take a closer look. Woods' behavior "continues to demonstrate that he is about the money," Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno said in opposing parole. Moreno said after the decision that she was angry and frustrated "because justice has been mocked."

Woods wasn't eligible to attend in person on Tuesday, but he said during the March hearing that he needed money to have acceptance from his parents and "was selfish and immature at that time," while his more recent violations were to benefit the trust fund left him by his late parents. His attorney, Dominique Banos, said Wednesday that the parole board recognized that Woods "poses no danger or threat to the community." Four victims or their relatives said Woods' misbehavior in prison shows he still views himself as privileged. Several of Woods' victims have previously supported his release. Lynda Carrejo Labendeira, who was 10 at the time, recalled how the children struggled to escape as a flashlight and candles flickered out. She still has flashbacks, she told the board. "Insomnia keeps me up all hours of the night," she said. "I don't sleep so that I don’t have to have any nightmares at all."

(Read more parole stories.)

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