Chowchilla school bus kidnapper wins release from prison

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — One of three men who kidnapped 26 children and their school bus driver in Chowchilla, California, nearly 40 years ago was granted parole Wednesday in San Luis Obispo.

The state Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to 63-year-old James Schoenfeld on the 20th time it considered the possibility of releasing the California man, the Fresno Bee reported.

Details of the decision to release Schoenfeld were not immediately available.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Bill Sessa said the ruling will now go through an internal review that could take up to four months before a recommended parole date is sent to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Schoenfeld, his brother, Richard, and a friend, Fred Woods, were convicted of kidnapping 26 school students and their bus driver in 1976. The men herded their captives into a pair of vans. They then drove the vans to a quarry near Livermore and forced their captives into a buried trailer stocked with mattresses, food and water and equipped with fans and ventilation.

Their plot, which they had worked on for 18 months, unraveled when they took a nap, and students and bus driver were able to escape unhurt.

All three men received life sentences after pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges.

Richard Schoenfeld was paroled in 2012. Woods remains in prison after he was denied parole in November 2012 and could be up for a parole hearing this fall.