Free Silly: Legal Liberals Petition For The Release of Kidnappers

The only thing I hate more than the progressive's demand for ever increasing government spending is their green eye-shade act. That is, when they suddenly become flinty-eyed fiscal conservatives when time to cut basic government services that they don't like. We saw an example of this yesterday when a group of liberal legal figures demanded the release of the Chowchilla kidnappers. Who are the Chowchilla kidnappers? These guys:

Thirty-five years ago, three men in their 20s kidnapped a bus full of schoolchildren in the Central Valley town of Chowchilla (Madera County), stuffed them and their driver into a makeshift underground dungeon and demanded a $5 million ransom.

The 27 prisoners dug their way to freedom after 16 hours, the abductors were nabbed and given life terms in prison, and the victims all tried to get on with their lives.


The Schoenfelds lived in Atherton and Woods lived in Portola Valley. They told relatives they hijacked the school bus at gunpoint on a road in Chowchilla on July 15, 1976, to get money to pay off a $30,000 debt they'd racked up in buying a house.

After piling the driver and all the children into vans, they drove them 100 miles north to Livermore, where they left the prisoners buried in a moving van in a quarry.

That's when, failing to get through overloaded phone lines at the Chowchilla police station, they took a nap. When they woke up, they learned from the radio that their victims had dug themselves free. Richard Schoenfeld turned himself in eight days later, and the other two were captured less than a week later. The Schoenfelds' only brother, John Schoenfeld of Belmont, said his siblings would have jobs waiting if they got out. Richard Schoenfeld, now 57, could work at drafting, and James Schoenfeld, 59, could work in air conditioning, he said.

I can remember reading a compelling Weekly Reader story back in the day that was based on the kidnapping. I was surprised to learn years later that this crazy incident actually happened. (and not so surprised that it occurred in California). But, still...kidnapping two dozen kids and burying them alive? Life in prison sounds appropriate.

But, now the kidnappers are making some noise about getting released and have found some unusual allies, among them are the lead investigator for the kidnapping and one of the appellate judge's who upheld the original convictions.

Retired state appellate court Justice William Newsom, who took part in the 1980 ruling giving the three a chance at parole, said Wednesday that they have paid their debt.

"This is a gross injustice to leave them in prison," Newsom said. "Nobody was physically injured in the kidnapping, and that is a major factor."

Also speaking out for parole was retired Madera County sheriff's Detective Dale Fore, who led the kidnapping investigation. Lead prosecutor David Minier, now a retired Madera County judge, sent a letter in support.

"These were just dumb rich kids who tried to rip a city off, and they've paid hell of a price for what they did," Fore said.

Yep! Just dumb rich kids! (in their mid-20's!) Newsome certainly knows a thing or two about dumb rich kids. In addition to being an administrator for the Getty Trust, he is also the father of Gavin Newsome, SF's former mayor and CA's current Lieutenant Governor. In other words, Newsome is as much a liberal as he is a retired appellate judge. Not that you could learn that from the linked article.

Still, it's kidnapper Schoenfeld's attorney who raises the "fiscal" argument for release

"Vengeance is a luxury California can no longer afford," attorney Scott Handleman said, noting that it costs about $50,000 a year to keep a state prisoner behind bars.

$50,000 a year?! Wow, just imagine the savings! Let's empty the prisons! We can't afford "vengence!" (cut to Gov. Brown nodding enthusiastically).

This is a perfect example of how liberals refuse to learn from the failures of their lousy ideas. The Chowchilla kidnappers were active during an era when legal leftists happily endorsed "soft on crime" policies that left criminals to run wild. Newsome, no doubt, was active in this effort. There really was a major crime wave back in the Seventies and Eighties that was only abated by conservative strategies such as "enforcing the law" and "sentencing criminals to long prison terms." The Chowchilla kidnappers were part of that wave, and well deserve their punishment. Next!

UPDATE: can't write about the Chowchilla "rich kids" without mentioning heroic bus driver Ed Ray, who saved all of those children. If Ray's kid was in prison, I doubt Newsome would be holding press conferences on his behalf. Needless to say, Ray gives the idea of parole a big thumbs down.

Bus driver Ed Ray, 89 and ailing in health, feels just as adamantly that the kidnappers should stay in prison, said his wife.

"We're not for them getting out," Odessa Ray said at their Chowchilla home. "We're thinking those three knew better. They really jeopardized a lot of lives."

That's straight talk from a decent man who did more in one terrifying afternoon that those three guys in prison have done in their entire lives.

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