SACRAMENTO, June 16 (UPI) -- California prison officials said one of three men convicted in the sensational 1976 Chowchilla school bus kidnappings will be released this month.
Richard Schoenfeld, 58, has been locked up since the mid-1970s for his role in the hijacking of 26 students and their bus driver. He is set to be released well ahead of his last scheduled parole date of 2021, the Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif., reported Saturday.
The state Department of Corrections told the newspaper a California appeals court ruled Schoenfeld should be released immediately and the California Supreme Court declined to overrule the lower court.
Schoenfeld had been sentenced to life in the case. He was convicted in 1976 along with his brother, James, and Frederick Woods, of kidnapping the busload of children in Chowchilla and forcing them into a moving van they had buried at a quarry in Livermore.
The victims spent about 16 hours in the van before managing to escape. Despite the happy ending, the case stunned the Central Valley town and the nation.
The Los Angeles Times said Schoenfeld had been eligible for an early parole hearing six months into his life sentence but the parole board did not find him eligible for release until 2008, then set a release date of 2021. Schoenfeld successfully challenged the formula used to arrive at the 2021 date.
Parole dates have not yet been set for Woods and James Schoenfeld.
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