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Chowchilla school bus kidnapper released after more than 35 years in prison


Richard Allen Schoenfeld, 57, is pictured in this booking photo dated Jan. 12, 2012.

A convicted kidnapper who took 26 schoolchildren and their bus driver in Chowchilla 36 years ago was released from prison Wednesday evening, NBC Bay Area has learned.

Richard Allen Schoenfeld, who hailed from a wealthy family in Atherton, was released to an undisclosed location late Wednesday, according to state prison officials.

Schoenfeld will be monitored 24 hours a day through the use of a GPS monitoring device, according to prison officials.

Schoenfeld, his brother, James Schoenfeld, and Frederick Woods kidnapped 26 children and their bus driver on July 15, 1976, buried them alive in a rock quarry in Livermore and then planned to demand a $5 million ranson. With the help of the bus driver, the victims miraculously escaped.

Read NBCBayArea.com's story on Richard Allen Schoenfeld's release from prison

In March, the First District Court ruled that California's Board of Parolee Hearings improperly calculated Schoenfeld's release date after determining in 2008 that he could be safely paroled.

James Schoenfeld and Woods never have been found suitable for parole by the state board.

Laws in effect in 1977 when the three pleaded guilty made Richard Schoenfeld eligible for parole after only six months, but like the others, his parole was routinely denied, largely because of the seriousness of his crimes.

There have been a series of significant dates in Schoenfeld's legal case:

  • In 2008, the parole board ruled that Schoenfeld "would not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety if released from prison."
  • In August 2009, a second panel decided against granting parole to Schoenfeld, saying that a third panel should consider whether granting parole would be "improvident."
  • On April 5, 2011, the third panel held its hearing on the matter at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo, where all three kidnappers were being held, and it ruled that parole would be appropriate for Schoenfeld. But the panel said that based on its calculations Schoenfeld should not be released until November 2021.

However, the First District Court of Appeal said the parole panel "erred" because it violated its own rules and lacked authority to increase Schoenfeld's sentence after finding him suitable for parole.

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