A 70-year-old California man has been granted release after spending the last four decades in prison for kidnapping a school bus full of children and burying them and their driver alive.
At a hearing Friday at California Men’s Colony, a state prison in San Luis Obispo County, Frederick Newhall Woods was deemed appropriate for release. He’d been denied freedom 17 times before.
Woods was imprisoned for his part in the kidnapping of 26 children, aged 5 to 14, and their bus driver in 1976 near Chowchilla, some 125 miles southeast of San Francisco. Woods and his accomplices, Richard and James Schoenfeld, buried them alive in a vented bunker.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provided this information via an AP file.
The kidnappers, who had been plotting the crime for over a year, wanted a $5 million ransom from the state Board of Education. All three hailed from wealthy households in the San Francisco Bay Area.
After more than a day in the bunker, the children and the driver were able to dig themselves out and escape.
Woods apologised for his actions on Friday, telling the parole board that he “had empathy for the victims that I didn’t have at the time.”
“I’ve changed as a person since then,” he admitted. “I was 24 years old at the time.” Now I fully comprehend the dread and pain I inflicted. “I accept full responsibility for this horrific conduct.”
The inside of the van that was as a prison for the 26 kidnapped Chowchilla schoolchildren and their bus driver on July 24, 1976, in Livermore, California.
His associates have already been released, after an appeals court granted Richard’s release in 2012 and then-Gov. Jerry Brown paroled James in 2015.
Two of the victims, Larry Park and Rebecca Reynolds Dailey, advocated for Woods’ release.
“I believe you have served sufficient time for the offence you committed,” Park stated on Friday.
“He could have done much more,” Brown Hyde said, adding that she does not believe Woods has entirely atoned for his actions and that he is “still a wealthy.”
“Even the settlement offered to some of us survivors was insufficient.” “It was enough to cover some therapy, but not enough to buy a house,” she explained.
Many of the survivors, according to Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno, are still affected by what transpired.
“This is a person who has proved his dangerousness. He’s damaged the lives of dozens of these kids, and many of them are still struggling with the consequences,” Moreno added.
“He is not someone who should be freed.” He’s shown the ability to commit this type of crime… to plan and carry out something like this.”
Before being reviewed by the governor, the panel’s judgement will become final within 120 days. Woods will be scheduled for release if the governor upholds the parole decision.