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California appeals release of 1970s bus kidnapper

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POSTED April 11, 2012 8:07 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The state is appealing a court order that called for the immediate release of one of three men convicted of kidnapping and burying a busload of schoolchildren in a 1970s ransom attempt.

The San Francisco-based 1st District Court of Appeal had ruled in February that the Board of Parole Hearings unfairly set Richard Schoenfeld's release date for 2021, even though it concluded that he wasn't a threat to society after 34 years behind bars.

It ordered Schoenfeld released immediately unless officials appealed its decision to the California Supreme Court.

The state Attorney General's Office filed its appeal Monday with the state's high court, saying the lower court that ordered his parole had misinterpreted the law governing his release, the Fresno Bee reported (http://bit.ly/HxnaqE).

Schoenfeld, his brother, James Schoenfeld, and Fred Woods pleaded guilty to holding 26 Chowchilla children and their bus driver hostage in a buried truck in 1976. Authorities say the trio, who were in their mid-20s at the time, planned to demand a $5 million ransom after falling into debt because of a failed real estate deal.

The children and the bus driver escaped by digging their way out of the vehicle when the kidnappers fell asleep.

At least some of the people involved with the original case, including an investigator with the Madera County sheriff's department, have supported the men's push for parole, noting that no one was hurt in the incident.

Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz, however, said he was glad the state was challenging the court's ruling.

"This was a horrific crime," he told the Bee. "Twenty-seven people were kidnapped."

 

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