Chowchilla Kidnapper Freed From Jail, Family Reacts

The Notorious Chowchilla kidnapper was let go in an undisclosed location Wednesday.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A convicted kidnapper who took 26 schoolchildren and their bus driver in Chowchilla 36 years ago and who hailed from a wealthy family in Atherton, was released from prison Wednesday evening, NBC Bay Area has learned. (Published Thursday, Jun 21, 2012)

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

    "As a result of a court order, Richard Allen Schoenfeld, was released on parole to an undisclosed location on the evening of June 20, 2012," a statement read. "Schoenfeld had been incarcerated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since February 17, 1978, as a result of his conviction for 27 counts of kidnapping."

    Chowchilla Kidnapper to Be Released in Days

    [BAY] Chowchilla Kidnapper to Be Released in Days
    A convicted kidnapper who took 26 schoolchildren and their bus driver in Chowchilla 36 years ago and who hailed from a wealthy family in Atherton, is expected to be released from prison within the next week. NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez reports. (Published Friday, Jun 15, 2012)

    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 ransom. The victims miraculously escaped.

    After his release, a GPS monitoring device will keep tabs on Schoenfeld 24 hours a day.

    NBC Bay Area talked to Schoenfeld's brother, John Schoenfeld, who said it's nice his brother is finally out of prison.

    "He's very remorseful," John Schoenfeld said. "They were young and had no idea the impact it would be on the famiilies...the kids themselves and their families."

    He also said his 89-year-old mother is especially happy.

    "The fact that Rick is out it means the world to her and it means the world to us also," Hohn said about his brother. "He's put in 35 years. Nobody was hurt in the case so I think he's done his time. He's no harm. He's no threat to society."

    District Attorney Jill Klinge has been in close contact with the victims. She told NBC Bay Area that one victim was so upset she couldn't go to work today.

    "They're sentenced to a life," Klinge said. "A life now with all the problems they have as a result of this and they don't feel the inmate deserves to get a second chance at life because they can't escape the horror of what this caused on their lives."

    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."

    But 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 are 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.