SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The last of three men convicted of hijacking a school bus full of California schoolchildren is seeking release Thursday after nearly four decades in prison.
Frederick Newhall Woods is now 64 years old. The two men convicted with him — brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld — have already been paroled.
Woods is set for a parole hearing at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo to gauge whether he, too, has served enough time behind bars.
The three young men from wealthy San Francisco Bay Area families were given life terms after hijacking a bus carrying 26 children and their school bus driver near the small Central Valley town of Chowchilla in 1976. They buried them in an underground bunker about 45 miles east of San Francisco. The victims were able to dig their way out more than a day later.
“They still can commit further crimes. I think they need to be watched eternally, the rest of their lives,” victim Lynda Carrejo Labendeira, who was 10 at the time, said in a telephone interview days before the hearing.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto is supporting Woods’ release. He has previously been denied parole 15 times.
“While his crime was a heinous one, I believe he has paid his debt to society,” she said in a Sept. 15 letter to the Board of Parole Hearings.
If the two-member parole panel agrees, it will be about five months before Gov. Jerry Brown decides whether to permit his release.
Woods and the Schoenfeld brothers plotted for more than a year to ransom the children, ages 5 to 14, for $5 million from the state Board of Education.
James Schoenfeld told commissioners at his April parole hearing that he was mired in debt and envious of friends in their neighborhood who had “his and hers Ferraris.”
But Woods said he didn’t need the money. At age 24, he owned a successful trucking, auto painting and wrecking yard, according to a transcript of his last parole hearing in 2012.
“I just, you know, got greedy,” he told parole commissioners at that hearing.
Woods remains unusually flush for an inmate, with a fully furnished, trust-fund-owned home awaiting him in Nipomo, about 25 miles south of the prison.
He owns about 60 collector cars, he said in 2012, including some he inherited from his late father and about 25 he bought while in prison. He said he had given about $10,000 to charity during his years in custody.
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