A 70-year-old California man who has spent the last four decades in prison for kidnapping a school bus full of children and burying them and their driver alive has been approved for parole.
Frederick Newhall Woods was found suitable for parole at a hearing Friday at California Men's Colony, a state prison in San Luis Obispo County. He had been denied release 17 other times.
Woods was sentenced for his role in the 1976 kidnapping of 26 children, ages 5 to 14, and their bus driver near Chowchilla, about 125 miles southeast of San Francisco. Woods and his accomplices, brothers Richard and James Schoenfeld, then buried them alive in a ventilated bunker.
The kidnappers, who planned the crime for more than a year, demanded $5 million in ransom from the state Board of Education. All three came from wealthy San Francisco Bay Area families.
The children and the driver were able to dig themselves out and escape after more than a day in the bunker.
Woods apologized for his actions Friday, telling the parole panel that he "had empathy for the victims which I 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."
His accomplices are already freed after an appeals court ordered Richard released in 2012 and then-Gov. Jerry Brown paroled James in 2015.
Two of the victims, Larry Park and Rebecca Reynolds Dailey, supported Woods' being paroled.
"I believe you have served enough time for the crime you committed,” Park said Friday.
Survivors Jennifer Brown Hyde, Lynda Carrejo and Laura Yazzi Fanning did not want to see Woods released.
"He could have done much more," Brown Hyde said, telling the panel that she does not think Woods has fully made amends for what he did and 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 said.
Madera County District Attorney Sally Moreno said many of the survivors are still affected by what happened.
"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 decision will become final within 120 days before it is reviewed by the governor. If the governor lets the parole decision stand, Woods will be scheduled for release.