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A California man who spent more than four decades in prison after being convicted of hijacking a school bus full of children outside San Francisco has been officially paroled.
Frederick Woods was officially paroled by a California parole board on Aug. 16, according to online corrections records. His release is now pending, corrections officials also confirmed.
Woods was originally approved for parole in March. At the time, California Gov. Gavin Newsom referred the parole panel’s decision for a full review by the parole board, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Deputy Press Secretary Terry Thornton told Oxygen.com.
On Tuesday, the board affirmed the panel’s earlier parole approval.
“Mr. Woods has earned his freedom,” Dominique Banos, Woods’ defense lawyer told Oxygen.com. “I am elated that the Executive Board affirmed Mr. Woods parole grant En Banc, confirming what has remained true of Mr. Woods: That over at least the past 24 years to date, he is and remains a low risk, and once released from prison he poses no danger or threat to the community,”
Banos, who was adamant Woods was "not a danger to society," said her client was fully remorseful and also participated in self-help and therapy while incarcerated.
“In sum, Mr. Woods has shown a change in character for the good, great maturity, insight and remorse for the arrogance and poor choices he made nearly 50 years ago," she said. "Mr. Woods has earned his freedom. I am very happy for him.”
Woods is the last of the three men convicted in the 1976 hijacking and kidnapping to be paroled.
Woods, along with Richard Schoenfeld and James Schoenfeldm, commandeered a Chowchilla, California school bus filled with 26 children and their driver at gunpoint on July 15, 1976.
The kidnappers later dumped the bus, loaded the hostages into two vans and drove them around for 11 hours before forcing them into an old moving van they'd buried underground at nearby gravel quarry. The kidnappers planned to demand a $5-million ransom for the safe return of the children, who were aged five through 14, and the driver but couldn't get through the police department's jammed phone lines.
The bus driver, Frank Edward Ray, and the children escaped the buried truck by digging themselves out after more than a day in captivity.
All three men were convicted for their roles in the crime. Richard Schoenfeld and James Schoenfeld were granted parole in 2012 and 2015, respectively.
Woods previously apologized to the victims and their families during a parole hearing in March — Woods’ 18th appearance before a parole board panel since his 1976 incarceration.
“I was 24 years old," Woods said. "Now I fully understand the terror and trauma I caused. I fully take responsibility for this heinous act.”
Some of the victims themselves had previously spoken out in Woods’ defense.
"He caused a lot of trauma, that is true," Larry Park, who was only six years old at the time of hijacking, told Fox News. "But at the end of the day, I would much rather hug him and love on him than hate him, because the hatred was killing me."
Others opposed his release.
"His mind is still evil and he is out to get what he wants," Jennifer Brown Hyde, who was 9 when she was kidnapped, told the board at the hearing, according to NBC News. "I want him to serve life in prison, just as I served a lifetime of dealing with the PTSD due to his sense of entitlement."
As of Thursday afternoon, Woods remains incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony detention facility in San Luis Obispo. Corrections officials declined to disclose Woods’ exact release date, citing “safety and security concerns.”
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