Chowchilla kidnapper to be released on parole | June 20, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - June 20, 2012

Chowchilla kidnapper to be released on parole

by Dave Boyce

Richard Schoenfeld, who grew up in Atherton and was imprisoned for nearly 36 years on a 1976 conviction related to the kidnapping of 26 Chowchilla schoolchildren, will be released from state prison in the second half of June at an undisclosed location, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation told the Almanac.

A parole board in April 2011 found Mr. Schoenfeld, now 57, to not to be an unreasonable risk of danger to the community, defense attorney Gary Dubcoff told the Almanac. The secrecy regarding the location of his release is "usual policy, for the security of all concerned," CDCR spokesman Jeffrey Callison said in an interview.

Mr. Schoenfeld, his older brother John Schoenfeld and Fred Woods, who grew up in Portola Valley, pleaded guilty to kidnapping 26 Chowchilla schoolchildren and their bus driver and secreting them in a quarry in Livermore, from which they all escaped on their own without injury.

The men were sentenced to life in prison but went to trial on the issue of whether they had physically harmed their victims, Mr. Dubcoff said. Physical injuries would have meant no possibility of parole.

The initial sentences excluded parole — the trial judge considered a nosebleed and a stomach ache to be injuries — but an appeals court judge disagreed and overturned the decision, said Mr. Dubcoff, who represents Mr. Woods.

John Schoenfeld and Mr. Woods have not yet been found suitable for parole.

After 20 unsuccessful appearances before a parole board, Mr. Schoenfeld was granted parole in April 2011. The board later tried to delay his release until November 2021, but the First District Court of Appeal said the board "erred" by violating its own rules and that it had no authority to increase Mr. Schoenfeld's sentence after finding him suitable for parole.

Mr. Dubcoff said he was "overjoyed" about Richard Schoenfeld's release. "I'm thrilled for his mom," he said. "It's been her great desire to have her sons come home. It's long, long overdue."

"I have no doubt in my mind that Richard Schoenfeld is going to be a model parolee, just as he was a model inmate," Mr. Dubcoff said. Mr. Schoenfeld participated in psychotherapy, excelled in his prison occupations and was no problem for staff, he said.

There are victims who object to Mr. Schoenfeld's release — a vocal minority, he said. "I totally get where they're coming from," he said. "It was a very, very serious crime and that's why they served 36 years." But their time has come, given that double- and triple-murderers have been released after shorter sentences, he said.

"Virtually every" state representative involved in the case supports Mr. Schoenfeld's release, Mr. Dubcoff said, including the trial judge, two appeals court judges, a prosecutor on the case, and two law enforcement officers. "That's a pretty telling fact," he said.

As for further criminal activity on the part of Mr. Schoenfeld, "It ain't gonna happen," Mr. Dubcoff said. "I can assure everyone."

Bay City News Service contributed to this story.


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Like I suppose a lot of parents in our area, my father followed the Chowchilla kidnapping pretty closely from the time it happened back in 1976, and I always recall him characterizing the Schoenfeld brothers and Woods as a bunch of bored, spoiled rich kids looking for something really exciting to do for kicks ... and maybe a few million dollars ...

Does that square with the memories of others who followed this story back then? Ordinarily, people don't expect Atherton or Portola Valley kids to dream up and carry through such major, high-profile crimes for money. Were they generally considered good kids until they were caught for this, or were they already the types of kids "known to law enforcement".