A 70-year-old California man has been approved for parole after being jailed for kidnapping a school bus full of children and burying them alive along with their driver.
In a hearing on Friday at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo County, Frederick Newhall Woods was found suitable for parole.
His release had previously been denied 17 times.
Mr. Woods was convicted for his role in the kidnapping of children, ages 5 to 14, in 1976 near Chowchilla, which is about 125 miles southeast of San Francisco.
In a ventilated bunker, Richard and James Schoenfeld, along with Woods, buried the victims alive.
Over the course of more than a year, the kidnappers planned the crime and demanded $5 million in ransom from the State Board of Education (CA Dept of Education).
Three of the kidnappers were from wealthy families in San Francisco.
After more than a day in the bunker, the children and the driver were able to dig themselves out and escaped.
The parole panel heard Woods apologize for his actions Friday, saying he “had empathy for the victims which [he] didn’t have then.”
“I’ve had a character change since then,” he said. “I was 24 years old. Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act.”
In 2012, an appeals court ordered Richard’s accomplices released.
In support of Woods’ parole, two of his victims, Larry Park and Rebecca Reynolds Dailey, spoke up.
“I believe you have served enough time for the crime you committed,” Park said Friday.
According to NBC News, former victims Jennifer Brown Hyde, Lynda Carrejo, and Laura Yazzi Fanning opposed Woods’ release.
“He could have done much more,” Brown Hyde said, saying she does not believe Woods has fully made amends and that he is “still a millionaire.”
“Even the settlement paid to some of us survivors was not sufficient. It was enough to pay for some therapy, but not enough to buy a house,” she stated.
Several survivors are still affected by what happened, according to Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno.
“This is an individual who’s demonstrated how dangerous he is. He’s ruined the lives of dozens of these kids — they still struggle, a lot of them, with the aftereffects of this,” Moreno said.
“He’s not someone who should be released. He’s demonstrated the capacity to do this kind of a crime … to mastermind and carry out something like this.”
The panel’s final decision will be made within 120 days and then reviewed by the governor. if the governor approves Woods’ parole, he will be released.