California prosecutor opens new probe in school kidnapping

AP News
Posted: Mar 03, 2016 8:07 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California prosecutor on Thursday began investigating whether victims were paid to support parole applications for three men who hijacked a school bus full of California children nearly four decades ago.

Madera County District Attorney David Linn said he asked his investigators to look into allegations made by other survivors. They are among 26 children kidnapped along with their school bus driver near Chowchilla in 1976.

The allegations have periodically surfaced in parole hearings for the three. They have always been denied — as they were again Thursday by an attorney for the three kidnappers.

Linn said he wants to know why some victims switched to supporting the release of Frederick Woods in November after they previously were opposed. Woods was denied parole, but brothers James and Richard Schoenfeld were previously released.

"It appeared to me that some people who had previously been opposed to letting Mr. Woods out of state prison had now all of a sudden become in favor of letting Mr. Woods out of state prison," Linn said. "I just suspect that some form of negotiations may be going on."

He noted that one survivor traveled half-way across the country to testify for Woods at his last hearing, while other victims have said they were offered money to support the kidnappers' parole.

"If there's money changing hands for testimony, I find that totally inappropriate," Linn said. "It's one of those things where a prosecutor's gut says it's probably illegal.... They could sway the parole board."

FBI, You Don’t Have That Right
Bruce Bialosky

The syndicated TV program "Inside Edition" first reported on Linn's investigation.

The allegations were immediately denied by Gary Dubcoff, an attorney representing the three men.

"Suffice it to say that no victim has been paid anything to support the parole of any of the Chowchilla kidnappers, and all anyone has to do to confirm that fact is to ask them," Dubcoff said.

He said he didn't want to comment at length to avoid dignifying allegations from individuals "who I personally know to be liars."