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No one is condoning the crime, but...
April 3, 2011 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Decades after school bus kidnapping, strong feelings in Chowchilla. 'Thirty-five years ago in Chowchilla, Calif., three young men from upscale families kidnapped a bus full of children and their driver and buried them in a quarry. Some of the officials who put the culprits in prison are calling for their parole — a sore point for many residents.'

'It's the largest kidnapping for ransom in U.S. history and one of California's strangest crimes — a legacy seldom forgotten by outsiders who still connect the name "Chowchilla" to it.

So when news broke that some of the men responsible for putting the kidnappers in prison — judges, prosecutors and investigators — were at a San Francisco news conference calling for their parole, the breakfast crowd at the Tommy Hawk cafe on the town's main street erupted.'
posted by VikingSword (149 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
O_O

I had no idea that such a horrifying thing had ever happened.
posted by Decimask at 7:14 PM on April 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


"Quite frankly, I am simply amazed that Richard Schoenfeld, given his record as a model prisoner, was not paroled years ago," Minier wrote the parole board in 2006.

That's weird how stealing people's children makes everyone hate you forever, who could have possibly guessed
posted by Greg Nog at 7:18 PM on April 3, 2011 [62 favorites]


After they imprisoned Ray and the children, they left to call in a $5-million ransom demand to the Chowchilla Police Department. The phone lines were busy. They took naps and awoke to the news that the children had escaped.

Talk about lazy.
posted by delmoi at 7:19 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm shocked I've never heard of this before. What an insane story.
posted by ORthey at 7:20 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, from the Wikipedia article on the town:

Ray was able to remember the license plate of one van while under hypnosis, and this led to the capture of the kidnappers

That's amazing that actually works.
posted by ORthey at 7:22 PM on April 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


delmoi: "After they imprisoned Ray and the children, they left to call in a $5-million ransom demand to the Chowchilla Police Department. The phone lines were busy. They took naps and awoke to the news that the children had escaped.

Talk about lazy
"

Inept kidnappers made me think of this Mr. Show sketch
posted by symbioid at 7:23 PM on April 3, 2011


I thought the scenario seemed familiar; turns out Walker, Texas Ranger did an episode with a similar story: "Cyclone" in season 4.
posted by The Confessor at 7:24 PM on April 3, 2011


The statements of their supporters are revealing:

"They were just dumb rich kids, and they paid a hell of a price for what they did."

"It was awful, but it was more of a mad prank than a vicious crime."

I think this has a lot to do with the tendency to ascribe better motivations (just a prank) to rich criminals than poor. Burying kindergartners in an airless moving van and then telling the screaming, fainting children to shut up is not a prank, that's shocking cruelty.

I'd have more sympathy if it weren't the case that the kidnapped children and bus driver rescued themselves; the kidnappers didn't seem to care that the children were starting to suffer dangerously in the heat and airlessness.
posted by palliser at 7:24 PM on April 3, 2011 [73 favorites]


I think they'd be safer in prison, honestly.
posted by odinsdream at 7:24 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


"They were just dumb rich kids, and they paid a hell of a price for what they did."

Imagine if they had been, say, dumb poor kids. Or dumb poor minority kids.
posted by grounded at 7:28 PM on April 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


Imagine if they had been, say, dumb poor kids. Or dumb poor minority kids.

Then everyone on MetaFilter would be making statements of doubtless certainty that the sole reason they are still behind bars is because of that status.
posted by gagglezoomer at 7:30 PM on April 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


The fact that they were wealthy makes it worse. What did they want or need that they should do something so cruel? And 22 is not a kid. Fuck that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:33 PM on April 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Then everyone on MetaFilter would be making statements of doubtless certainty that the sole reason they are still behind bars is because of that status.

Speak for yourself, gagglezoomer.
posted by Floydd at 7:34 PM on April 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Woah woah woah. I went to the Wiki page regarding this, and they mention:
it was observed that some circumstances of the abduction corresponded to details in "The Day the Children Vanished", a story written by Hugh Pentecost that had been published in the 1969 fiction anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Daring Detectives.
So, I follow to "Hugh Pentecost":
Judson Pentecost Philips (10 August 1903 – March 7, 1989) was an American writer who wrote more than 100 mystery and detective novels under the pseudonyms Hugh Pentecost and Philip Owen, as well as under his own name. As Judson Philips, he also wrote numerous pulp sports novels in the 1930s.
And I'm thinking. Where the hell have I heard that name before...

Then it hit me. I made a comment in the WI politics regarding a Tea Bagger with that name who wants to restrict voting to property owners... (obviously, a different dude, unless they resurrected the author from the grave somehow.)

Sorry for the derail just found it an interesting synchronicity.
posted by symbioid at 7:36 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I remember reading about this in Reader's Digest when I was a kid. Scared the bejesus out of me.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:37 PM on April 3, 2011


I agree what they did was heinous and thoughtless, but life imprisonment? How is such a sentence in any way justified?
posted by nonmerci at 7:39 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]



"My client was 22 at the time, and the plan was never to hurt anyone," said Scott Handleman, the attorney for Richard Schoenfeld.

What's that mean, exactly? 22 Is too young to understand that burying kids alive is not ok? That burying kids alive wouldn't hurt them?

Bullshit. I'd never have done that at 22 and I doubt anyone here would have either. Not at ten, not at fifty.

I remember when this happened. All over the radio, papers, TV. Everybody talked about it. You couldn't escape the story. My younger brother had nightmares and my mom.... we lived maybe 50 miles from there and she didn't even want to let us out of the house.

I think it'd take a sociopath to imagine and actually DO this. These guys are pretty close to the bottom of my list of people to parole.
posted by merelyglib at 7:42 PM on April 3, 2011 [19 favorites]


What could po$$ibly be the motivation for the former official$ in this ca$e to pre$$ for their relea$e? I can't po$$ibly imagine.

before you accuse me of suggesting that they were bribed, let me say that there are all kinds of methods and options available to people with money who have family members in jail; for example, the article notes that "Dale Fore, [formerly] one of the lead investigators in the case...worked as a private investigator for the Woods family's attorneys, tracking down kidnapping victims to see if any would write letters of support for parole. None has." (Go figure.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:43 PM on April 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wow, I remember reading "The Day the Children Vanished" as a child. I always thought it was a thinly fictionalized retelling of the original crime (which I was vaguely aware of) - I had no idea that it predated the real event. In the story the plan is a little more clever, but is foiled by one person realizing what must have happened to the bus.

35 years is a long time for a crime that didn't involve killing anyone and didn't last a day, but the lack of compassion they had for their victims was shocking.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:45 PM on April 3, 2011


Given that no-one died or was seriously harmed (fainting? motion sickness? gimme a break) a sentence of 5 years maximum seems justified to me. Think of how many people have actually committed murders, done time and been released since then. I even think that for some of the victims it might become a cool childhood story to recollect after the passage of a few years rather than a life-scarring traumatic experience, especially for the older boys who managed the daring escape.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:47 PM on April 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think I'm ok with their being paroled. 35 years is a hell of a long time to spend in prison. But the sympathy of the judge, prosecutors and investigators is a little odd, given California's reputation as the state that doesn't parole anyone. That's really the only sentence in their entire careers that haunts them? Really?
posted by craichead at 7:48 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Given that no-one died or was seriously harmed "

Except the girl who woke up screaming at night well into her 20s. I'd say that's serious psychological harm.

"I even think that for some of the victims it might become a cool childhood story to recollect after the passage of a few years rather than a life-scarring traumatic experience, especially for the older boys who managed the daring escape."

Why would you think that? None of them support the parole and the victim that was interviewed seems like she was highly traumatized.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:51 PM on April 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


I have no sympathy. Throw away the key.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:52 PM on April 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think this has a lot to do with the tendency to ascribe better motivations (just a prank) to rich criminals than poor. Burying kindergartners in an airless moving van and then telling the screaming, fainting children to shut up is not a prank, that's shocking cruelty.

The flipside of this is places like Metafilter, where poor criminals are frequently given a benefit of the doubt that rich criminals don't get.

Personally, I think these guys should be paroled. What's the justification for keeping them in prison? After 35 years, it's hard to imagine that any of them are going to do anything like this again. I don't see a justification based on deterring others, because, once again, knowing that there's a sentence out there of 35 years is likely to deter most everyone who might hatch a similar plan. The only justification for keeping them locked up is vengeance. Even if you accept that as a valid purpose of punishment, it's already been achieved. These people's lives have been lost in prison, all they've got left is to pass the last few years of middle age, get old, and die. Letting them do that in the limited freedom of parole seems like a minor mercy.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:54 PM on April 3, 2011 [31 favorites]


Considering the fact that they could so casually take a nap after they just buried 17 human beings alive, it does seem odd that they have no previous history of anti-social behavior. You don't go from squeaky clean to that!
posted by Neekee at 7:55 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Given that no-one died or was seriously harmed (fainting? motion sickness? gimme a break) a sentence of 5 years maximum seems justified to me.

That is a hilarious overestimate of the humanity in the American criminal justice system. We imprison people for victimless, harmless crimes like possession of an ounce of marijuana with intent to distribute and give people 5 years.
posted by TypographicalError at 7:56 PM on April 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


What a thing to do. I'm slowly becoming anti-prison for most crimes, but this is one I can see why they were locked up for a long time. It deserves a long sentence.

35 years is a pretty long sentence. It's a lifetime for some people. It's quite a gouge from any life. If they let these guys go scott free tomorrow, no parole/reporting conditions, they would have already received a real and heavy punishment.
posted by weston at 8:00 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think they should still be in prison, but then again I'm not too hot on the whole prison thing in the first place
posted by tehloki at 8:03 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Letting them do that in the limited freedom of parole seems like a minor mercy.

Maybe. But it's a decision for the victims to make, the children and their parents, and nobody else. No one on earth has the right to proxy-forgive for others.
posted by jfuller at 8:11 PM on April 3, 2011


No one on earth has the right to proxy-forgive for others.
This isn't about forgiveness, and the victims were pretty happy about them being proxy-punished.
posted by doublehappy at 8:13 PM on April 3, 2011 [17 favorites]


That is a hilarious overestimate of the humanity in the American criminal justice system. We imprison people for victimless, harmless crimes like possession of an ounce of marijuana with intent to distribute and give people 5 years.
Or 20 years for cocaine.

I don't really have a lot of sympathy for these guys. I don't really care either way, I guess. I think the fact they kidnapped children makes it a lot worse then if they had kidnapped a bus full of adults.
posted by delmoi at 8:13 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sure, let them out. Only after you release all the other prisoners kept in jail for ridiculous periods of time for drug crimes (who never kidnapped a bus full of children and buried them).
posted by axiom at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2011 [19 favorites]


Maybe. But it's a decision for the victims to make, the children and their parents, and nobody else. No one on earth has the right to proxy-forgive for others.
The purpose of the justice system isn't revenge, it's justice. We don't let victims decide the punishment for a reason. The decision should be made by the parole board, considering the interests of victims, the preps, and society at large.
posted by delmoi at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2011 [26 favorites]


But it's a decision for the victims to make, the children and their parents, and nobody else.

That isn't how the American legal system works. Not at all. In criminal proceedings, a person can be brought to trial even if the victim does not support it. Similarly, a criminal can be paroled even if the victim does not forgive.
posted by explosion at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2011 [25 favorites]


Here's the nut:
A key issue at sentencing was whether they had kidnapped with bodily harm — a circumstance warranting life in prison with no parole. Prosecutor David Minier convinced Superior Court Judge Leo Deegan that the nosebleeds, stomach upset and fainting suffered by three of the girls constituted injury. But an appeals court ruled in 1980 that there was no bodily harm, and the kidnappers were eligible for parole.
Another way to put it is they were railroaded into life without parole sentences. Later, courts corrected that error to life with parole.

Eligible for parole doesn't mean must be paroled. It means elegible. Parole is not a legal decision, it is a political decision.
posted by warbaby at 8:17 PM on April 3, 2011


Maybe. But it's a decision for the victims to make, the children and their parents, and nobody else. No one on earth has the right to proxy-forgive for others.

We're not talking about forgiveness. While I tend to think that forgiveness is a good idea, I'm not going to tell anyone in that situation to forgive these people. The question is whether we should continue to punish them, and we shouldn't punish people because the victim wants it, that's just vengeance.

The question of whether or not to continue punishing them needs to made by the parole board, not the victims, and the parole board needs to make that decision by deciding if any of the legitimate ends of punishment are being met in this case. As I said before, I don't think they are.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:18 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


A stupid, horrible crime. But I think 35 years is more than enough. If it's not, why not just kill them?
posted by maxwelton at 8:20 PM on April 3, 2011


35 years is a very long time, probably longer than they could have imagined at 22. I don't feel particularly sorry for the time they have served, but equally I don't think it is wrong for them to go free. All of the senior Bush administration officials have thousands of gallons of blood on their hands, and I don't expect a single one of them to face an investigation, much less serve time. It isn't a fair world, and I think we apply punishments in particularly uneven ways.
posted by Forktine at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


There must be a point where the punishment becomes too abstract from the crime to be anything other than punishment for the sake of punishment.
posted by doublehappy at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


35 years is a hell of a long time to spend in prison.

Eh, there were 27 victims, so less than 16 months for each victim. I don't think it's unreasonable to let them live the rest of their lives in jail.

I guess I'm pretty liberal in my interpretation of "bodily harm" because of the extreme psychological torment inflicted on the victims (most of whom were impressionable young children) as they were being buried alive. I'd be curious to know if anyone has ever studied them to find out exactly what damage was done to them and if they have ongoing psychological problems as a result.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:28 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Retired Court of Appeal Justice William Newsom: "...it was more of a mad prank than a vicious crime..."

Bill! Come over here!

Closer.

Closer.

Spread your knees a little. Thanks, Bill, that's perfect.

OK, now stand really, really still while I change into those steel-capped work boots and get a run up.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:31 PM on April 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Buried alive" is an exaggeration, in retrospect, but those children weren't ever made aware of what was going to happen to them, were they? Did the kidnappers ever explicitly say "don't worry, nothing's going to happen to you..." or were they driven 11 hours in a windowless van thinking that it may be their last ride?
posted by MegoSteve at 8:32 PM on April 3, 2011


i'd parole them on the condition that they spend the rest of their working lives doing public service - even if that's just picking trash up off the roads - let them work at redeeming themselves
posted by pyramid termite at 8:38 PM on April 3, 2011


MegoSteve, according to a judge, "(These) children were not old enough to endure such treatment....(they) were not told why they were there. They were impressed with the fear they were going to die...(they) were put through an ordeal by terror."
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:46 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went to school with one of the kids. He definitely had moments when he'd go off "elsewhere". I haven't kept in touch that well, but I understand that it still affects him (certain sounds or spaces). There's no way in hell I'd ever consider what was done to him "a prank".
posted by roamsedge at 8:47 PM on April 3, 2011 [16 favorites]


Fuck those guys. Throw away the key.
posted by ged at 8:48 PM on April 3, 2011


And from a psychiatrist who studied the victims: "Nearly all of the children told Terr in her final interviews with them in 1980-1 that they held little hope for a happy future, a long life, or a life free from similar major traumas."
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:49 PM on April 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


In their early 20s, the three tinkered with cars, dabbled in real estate and dreamed of becoming movie moguls. Their scheme started as an idea for a screenplay about the perfect crime — a big ransom, victims released unharmed and everything wrapped up in 24 hours.

After they lost $30,000 on a housing deal, they started plotting the kidnapping for real, hoping to make some easy money.


this sounds like a hackneyed Batman plot

reminds me a bit of one of the worst moments in Dexter, Season 4.

clautophobia is one of my phobias. this whole thing is fucked. the perpetrators might not do a similar crime, but what if they need money? or get bored? what will they do then?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:52 PM on April 3, 2011


So everyone else in that prison who's in for a victimless crime like drug possession is already out? Right?

Right?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:52 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


There are some things you can't come back from.
posted by Benjy at 8:57 PM on April 3, 2011


jfuller writes "Maybe. But it's a decision for the victims to make, the children and their parents, and nobody else. No one on earth has the right to proxy-forgive for others."

In a world where people will beat the crap out of others for cutting them off on the highway that would make for a pretty crazy "justice" system.
posted by Mitheral at 9:00 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree what they did was heinous and thoughtless, but life imprisonment? How is such a sentence in any way justified?

It seems to me that it was only luck that the children were able to escape and not suffocate to death.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:01 PM on April 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


These assholes absolutely deserve to rot in prison. Coming from a wealthy family doesn't mean they deserve a light sentence. They had every advantage in life and they nearly killed those kids because they had some crazy scheme and apparently didn't stop once to think about their actions.

Throw. Away. The key.
posted by ged at 9:12 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that it was only luck that the children were able to escape and not suffocate to death.

This is one of several reasons why, even though I think we overuse prison as a punishment, prison was justified in this case.

i'd parole them on the condition that they spend the rest of their working lives doing public service - even if that's just picking trash up off the roads - let them work at redeeming themselves

Yeah. The heavy hit is probably done. Warehousing them doesn't really do anyone any good. If their victims still fear them, put restraining orders in place, keep strong conditions on their parole, heck, require them to pay into a victim counseling fund... all along with the public service.
posted by weston at 9:27 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought the scenario seemed familiar; turns out Walker, Texas Ranger did an episode with a similar story: "Cyclone" in season 4.

It was also the inspiration for a pretty good episode of Millennium.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:55 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm shocked I've never heard of this before. What an insane story.

The story was a big deal here in California. I was about 9 years old at the time and I remember being absolutely terrified that something like that could happen to me. Still one of my biggest fears to this day. A few years later we had the Harvey Milk assassination and the Jonestown massacre within days of each other. And then there was this guy. The 70s were a very weird, scary time to be a kid in Northern California. But I digress.

The Chowchilla kidnapping could have easily gone horribly wrong and it's just their dumb luck that no one died. They deserve to rot in prison for the rest of their lives for the callous disregard they showed for human life.
posted by echolalia67 at 9:56 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Call me a history nerd but it's been kind of interesting comparing and contrasting the discursive frame of this case with that of Leopold and Loeb.

So what's present here? Rehabilitation is on point but, as with most high-profile cases, the authority of the parolee board and the efficacy of the prison system get stuck in the background when more pressing issues, like equal retribution and community fear get the spotlight.

To contrast: When Nathan Leopold was paroled after 33 years (Dickie Loeb having long been shanked), there was a flurry of media attention that was either wary, advocating a close watch, or positive, calling the decision wise.

The immediate public condemnation of the presiding judge who had reduced their sentence from capital punishment to life stemmed from an immediate fear that parole might be had for these crazy, abnormal killers riled a lot of people but, as time went on, and as Leopold and Loeb showed up in the public light in one form or another, it's almost as if the public gave up the goose of the unequal gaze, sensing rehabilitation from the once 'evil mastermind'.

What happened? A lot of things. Paula Fass posits that the media, upon having to reorient themselves to the Clarence Darrow's celebrity and his strategic use of psychoanalysis to mitigate L&L's death sentence, placed Leopold and Loeb on a 'similar continuum' as the reader; the spectacle of the trial changed from a discourse on 'fear' and 'equal retribution' and, to a lesser extent, class differences to the more popular one of 'abnormality'. In a sense, the two of them who were once mythically brilliant freaks were brought down to the layman's level, a little bit like in that one Simpson's episode where Mensa takes over Springfield's government and runs the place just as badly, if not worse, than Quimby.

What this case doesn't have is a lot of that latter continuum and the similarities in themes to the Leopold and Loeb case reflect much of that. Most of the argument against parole on the blue fixates itself on punishment, with themes of 'they don't deserve better', attributing long lasting agency and thus fault to the perpetrators and that ever-present appeal of the greater good. And then there's that polemic of rich vs poor, that old populist criticism of the wealthy and their exclusive rights and its buddy, the unfair, false equivalent and personally nagging fear of possession.

All of these were present in the trial prior to Darrow's mitigation strategy and disappeared when put up against more hot-topic issues like psychoanalysis and the man himself. Without that kind of celebrity, the discourse jumps back to that of the unequal gaze, where mores are enforced by the semiotic spectacle that play out within the confines of that sovereign institution that is the prison system.

And so the most favorited comment is shows off a discourse of class because it's the easiest one to identify with. Given the abundant and journalistically savvy descriptions of the boys as 'rich' and 'wealthy', it's not hard to see why it's the most favorited comment with all of that en vogue jibber jabber about Wall Street and economic crises.

tl;dr blah blah blah panopticon
posted by dubusadus at 10:00 PM on April 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


All the earnestly held opinions coming from people who are not {trained to make psychiatric evaluations} ∪ {clinically familiar with these individuals} about what should be done in this case pretty much amounts to bullshit, blather and bunkum. And all the "yeah buts" about how poorly our justice system works in other cases...mere garden-variety derails, nothing more.

Questions, on the other hand, can actually lead somewhere.
> I agree what they did was heinous and thoughtless, but life imprisonment? How is such a sentence in any way justified?
It's entirely justifiable to deny parole to any of the perps who may be sociopaths that might ever do something so depraved again. The point of doing so is not vengeance, but keeping known monsters away from the general public. That is what our justice system is ostensibly for. I find the apparent lack of understanding of this fact exhibited by several of the commenters thus far pretty disappointing, to be honest, but at least that's just ignorance. What's more troublesome is that virulent strain of "I don't see what the big deal is!" that also crops up in threads about bullying, sexism, etc. I may just have to accept that mental stuntedness is more common than I'd like to believe.
> I'd be curious to know if anyone has ever studied them to find out exactly what damage was done to them and if they have ongoing psychological problems as a result.
I'm glad you asked.
posted by perspicio at 10:02 PM on April 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm a big ole liberal. I'm also a parent. And I echo:

Throw away the key.
posted by pianoboy at 10:06 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Whether or not they deserve parole should be independent of the correctness of the sentencing system for nonviolent drug offender. I agree with everyone here who is outraged at the sentences that nonviolent offenders receive, but, honestly, how does that change the justice or lack thereof of paroling these men? Just because someone is suffering injustice somewhere else does not mean that everyone should suffer injustice.

Whether or not this is justice or not, well, that's a matter for discussion. I have really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, they don't seem to be a danger to the public and they'd be out after the age of 60. On the other hand, the crime truly showed a disregard for life and there's something to be said (although, from what I can remember, not much) for deterrence. I tend to see prison more as, if not a rehabilitative place (not these days), but more as a place to place people until they are no longer a threat. What else is justice, if not this?

Should this option be available to poor, black offenders? Yes. Should that stop it from being an option for rich white ones? In my opinion, no.
posted by Hactar at 10:07 PM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Glad two people have already recommended Lenore Terr's Too Scared to Cry. It's a very important read for people who don't think childhood psychological trauma has any long-term effects, that this was an adventure for the children, or that this was somehow victimless because no one died.

I cannot support perspicio's statements enough.
posted by pineappleheart at 10:07 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I even think that for some of the victims it might become a cool childhood story to recollect after the passage of a few years rather than a life-scarring traumatic experience, especially for the older boys who managed the daring escape.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft


This is just breathtakingly wrong. This is not how trauma affects children. Those children were brutalized, and might easily have died if the kidnappers hadn't also been incompetent, lazy, dip-shits. There are people commenting in this thread who had it negatively affect them. Try studying this issue a bit before making such asinine assertions.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:12 PM on April 3, 2011 [21 favorites]


I'd hate to have most of you as parole board members if it was me up for a hearing, no matter the charge or sentence. Shiiiiiiiiiiiit.
posted by peacay at 10:13 PM on April 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


What an inteersting post. I remember reading Kidnapped! At Chowchilla in my elementary school's library, it was probably the first true crime book I'd ever read and instilled in me a decently serious fear of getting kidnapped ["You have to be famous to be kidnapped..." my mom would say "But the kids at Chowchilla weren't famous!" I'd tell her] for years afterwards. I think you're seriously underestimating the trauma done to a bunch of kids who get taken away with no idea where they're going and stuck in a van with no food, water or bathrooms for ten hours with little kids scared and puking on you and worried you're going to die. I don't have a strong opinin about parole except to mention again that what was said upthread, that the lack of bodily harm during the event is what made these guys even eligible for parole in the first place.

I'm surprised that not one of the kidnap victims came out in favor of parole (often you'll see that sort of thing with people who are born again or otherwise anti-criminal justice system) and you haven't seen it in this case at all. 27 counts of kidnapping is an awful lot of kidnapping, even if it did happen just one time. The link that the young rope-rider points to talks a lot about the kidnappers trying to flee the country when their plan was foiled.
posted by jessamyn at 10:36 PM on April 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's entirely justifiable to deny parole to any of the perps who may be sociopaths that might ever do something so depraved again. The point of doing so is not vengeance, but keeping known monsters away from the general public.
This kind of thing is why I hate the whole 'sociopath' b.s. People just use it to describe anyone they really don't like, make up all kinds of b.s. About anyone who's a 'sociopath' is irredeemable and bla bla bla. And of course the definition gets expanded to all kinds of people who do not commit crimes (like Wall Street executives and so on) in which case sociopaths are not actually guaranteed to commit horrible crimes, there's no justification for holding them on that hypothetical possibility.

These guys are probably idiots and may not have realized how traumatic the experience would be for the kids.
posted by delmoi at 10:43 PM on April 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ach. I'm just imaging how I would feel if it were my daughter they had kidnapped and buried. Fuck those guys forever and ever.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:44 PM on April 3, 2011


The article leaves out some significant details, which distorts people's understanding of what actually happened.

Referring to the court's opinion for the successful appeal of the bodily harm enhancement, the kidnappers told their victims that they would be held for 24-48 hours. They were supplied with food during both the journey and at their destination, and both the transportation vehicles and the buried furniture van had powered ventilation systems. The one in the buried van replaced all the air every 25 minutes and was tested in advance by the kidnappers to ensure it would run for at least 48 hours (in the event, it was left running at the crime scene and continued to function until the morning of the third day after the kidnapping).

As Justice Newsom observed in his concurrence:
There are, as Justice Racanelli points out, sound pragmatic reasons why the Legislature has chosen not to permit the life without parole sentence where no independent significant physical harm occurs. . . Manifestly the principal purpose was to provide an incentive for the kidnapper to refrain from inflicting such injury on the victim — a purpose which appears to have been vindicated in the circumstances of this case.
I would certainly parole these people. Excessive sentencing provides criminals with little incentive to mitigate or moderate their behavior, a viewpoint proverbially expressed as 'might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.'
posted by anigbrowl at 11:01 PM on April 3, 2011 [26 favorites]


What's more troublesome is that virulent strain of "I don't see what the big deal is!" that also crops up in threads about bullying, sexism, etc.

People don't get 35+ years in prison for bullying or sexism. Relative to the crimes that usually carry a sentence like that, causing someone recurring nightmares is not a big deal.

Many victims of crime experience trauma and other health effects. Victims of simple assault can be left with recurring migraines, permanent memory problems and experience panic attacks even years after the fact. Should assault carry a punishment of decades in prison? Then there's victims of child molestation, rape, and the families of murder victims. How long do criminals go down for any of those crimes? Much less than 35 years in many cases. It's an issue of proportionality. 35 years is simply an insane punishment (actually 45 when you consider the two other perps aren't eligible for parole another 10 years). In many countries that is a mass-murder sentence.

The judge is right, the "won't somebody think of the children!!" calls to keep these guys behind bars are histrionic and completely ridiculous.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 11:02 PM on April 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


This kind of thing is why I hate the whole 'sociopath' b.s. People just use it to describe anyone they really don't like, make up all kinds of b.s. About anyone who's a 'sociopath' is irredeemable and bla bla bla.
Yes, people often use the term that way. No, people don't just use it that way. I assure you I meant it in the clinical sense. Keep in mind, sloppy communication happens on the receiving end, too. People commonly overlay their own meanings onto what is said.

If you look carefully, you'll see that I didn't draw conclusions about these individuals at all. In fact, I began by explicitly stating that doing so without the requisite training and direct, experiential knowledge of them is nonsense.
posted by perspicio at 11:06 PM on April 3, 2011


> you're seriously underestimating the trauma done to a bunch of kids who get taken away with no idea where they're going and stuck in a van with no food, water or bathrooms [...]

Except that's not what happened. I don't want to make excuses for the perpetrators of this crime, but I think accuracy matters. Even the lightweight LA Times articles mentions water and air tubes, whereas most people here are talking as if the kidnap victims were sealed inside an airless box.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:18 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's always a wake-up call to check out a thread about criminal sentencing to see how obsessed with punishment a lot of people are. Of course, after years of paying attention, I'm no longer surprised that so many people think prison is good for anything besides keeping dangerous persons out of society. What really gets me is how divergent people are on a concept like justice. Even if you went with a clumsy and primitive rule of thumb like "an eye for an eye", we have people suggesting that a 35-year imprisonment for endangering children and holding them captive for 16 hours is not enough. Think about that.

The thought that so many of my peers can--after presumably careful consideration of the facts--be so flagrantly and proudly cruel disturbs me much more than the idea of three first-time offenders (who were reckless idiot kidnappers 35 years ago) receiving parole.
posted by millions at 11:26 PM on April 3, 2011 [17 favorites]


It's an issue of proportionality. 35 years is simply an insane punishment (actually 45 when you consider the two other perps aren't eligible for parole another 10 years).
Again, the most important thing is not to punish the guilty, but to protect the innocent. If none of us here are in a position to know whether any of these individuals may be genuinely sociopathic or not, I submit to you that our opinions about the matter are not relevant in any meaningful sense at all, no matter how strongly we may feel about them.

Actual information may be interesting, but the truth value of certainty is null.
posted by perspicio at 11:26 PM on April 3, 2011


Even if you went with a clumsy and primitive rule of thumb like "an eye for an eye", we have people suggesting that a 35-year imprisonment for endangering children and holding them captive for 16 hours is not enough. Think about that.

Wasn't 16 hours simply the amount of time the children and bus driver were held before they escaped? Did the kidnappers honestly intend to hold them for that amount of time?
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:50 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


They were driven around in the two vans for 11 hours, then buried in the moving van for 16 hours. So they were captive for something more than 24 hours, and it was apparently (according to one of the articles) a total of about 36 hours altogether before they were reunited with their parents.

In terms of proportionality, it seems that there is also the number of victims to think about. Should someone who poisoned a whole town full of people get the same sentence as someone who poisoned one person? In this case there were 27 victims, 27 kidnappings, not one.

At any rate, since they apparently spent months planning their "perfect crime," yet did things like Fred Woods renting the burial van in his own name, and using his father's property, and one of the others leaving around a note outlining the scheme, plus having no back-up plan in case things went wrong, I have to say that it's very, very lucky indeed that the children managed to survive and escape, because these guys don't really sound like brilliant masterminds, and they could have easily all died from some glitch in the process, anywhere along the line. The kidnappers also had guns, and I don't think there's zero chance they would have used them if the driver or one or more of the kids tried to attack them.

It's a weird case to think about, because what do you compare it to? Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't a prank, though. That the retired appeal justice refers to it that way is bizarre. They used deadly force and imposed over 24 hours of terror on 26 schoolchildren (and terror, as well, for their families and community). For money. It makes me very curious why that retired justice is motivated to characterize it as a prank.

I don't have strong feelings either way about whether parole is justified at this point, though, because I don't have the knowledge to understand the legal or judicial underpinnings of the case, and I see reasonable points on both sides of the issue.
posted by taz at 12:23 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the people arguing for parole; your evidence that the the prisoners won't repeat this or a similar crime is....?

I think you should share your insight into psychology and personal knowledge of the prisoners not only with the parole board but also with the internet at large, so we too can see your evidence that they have reformed sufficiently to no longer be a threat to society.
posted by happyroach at 12:55 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, the most important thing is not to punish the guilty, but to protect the innocent

Yeah I'm sure the first thing these assholes are going to do if they are paroled is nab another busload of kids. Because 35 years wasn't enough to convince them that was a bad idea. Please.

I honestly don't know what bugs me more: their [pretty bad] crime, or the "throw away the key" bullshit being paraded around here. Bonus points for people who mention how "liberal" the normally are, though. Clearly being a liberal has its limits.
posted by cj_ at 12:57 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


These three kidnappers were sentenced to life and have served 35 years thus far. Three years later in California Lawrence Singleton kidnapped 14-year-old Mary Vincent, beat her, raped her, and chopped both of her forearms off with an axe before leaving her to die. He was convicted of kidnapping, mayhem, attempted murder, forcible rape, sodomy and forced oral copulation and sentenced to 14 years in prison, the maximum in California at the time. He was paroled after serving eight years. I don't get it - was the maximum sentence in California for kidnapping actually reduced after Chowchilla?
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would like to hear them describe the incident in their own words. If the words prank, jape, joke etc. come up, they probably shouldn't be paroled. What will actually happen is they will be paroled, because it certainly looks like money talks in this instance, and they will live out the rest of their lives the way the useless* children of the rich always do, protected and cosseted. 22 years old is not a child for anyone else, and this wasn't a joke. The people who made those arguments should be shunned.

*Not all rich people have awful children. Several do and the disproportionate power issues money brings in to play allow some truly insane things to happen.
posted by Peztopiary at 1:31 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oriole: I assume the three kidnappers were charged with one count of kidnapping per person on that bus. 27 kidnapping convictions adds up. Also, California's justice system made less sense in the 70s than it does today.
posted by riruro at 1:43 AM on April 4, 2011


I found Anigbrowl's comment very persuasive: you have to have graduated levels of punishment to discourage kidnappers from murdering their victims. So by releasing these guys you're actually sending a message: there are heavier punishments, but we have reserved them for worse offenses.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:49 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hurf, durf, No, I'M the better parent! I think we not only should throw away the key, we should shoot the locksmith for installing the lock in the first place! These people should be thrown in a hole!

No! A cement hole! With no roof. A tomb, if you will.

A tomb? Tombs are too good for 'em! I say we take their etc., etc.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:54 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I saw that, too, Oriole Adams – hard to fathom, isn't it? That guy also went on to murder another woman after he was released.
posted by taz at 2:01 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I remember this too when I was a child. The whole thing was terrifying.

I think they should be paroled. I think the law operates on the basis of what they did do, not what they could have done. Also on their intentions and I don't think they actually intended to kill anyone either.

It's horrible but so is spending that much of your life in jail. If judges and detectives think its too long, I'm inclined to trust them. They have a broader view of this case and hopefully don't have their judgement clouded with 'kids! schoolbus! buried! kids! Imagine what could have happened!!'

I'm not surprised the kids can't forgive. To them, these guys are probably monsters out of a childhood nightmare. When I was in elementary school, I was a latch-key kid. I got home from school a few hours before my parents and waited for them to get home. One afternoon our place was robbed. I was there alone. One of the burglars kept watch on me - wide-eyed, frightened, wondering if they would kill me - while the other two burgled my parents place. The whole incident still gives me nightmares. The burglars are not human to me. In reality, they were likely dumb young kids looking for drug money. But I wouldn't trust myself on any jury panel. Thats how law works. The victims are the wrong ones to decide what punishment is fair.

I'm a big old liberal, and, well, I'm a big old liberal.

So by releasing these guys you're actually sending a message: there are heavier punishments, but we have reserved them for worse offenses.

Exactly. Once you've kidnapped kids you might as well kill them if the law will treat you the same either way.
posted by vacapinta at 2:16 AM on April 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


I don't have a dog in this parole race, were I on that board, I might vote for parole. But I do not buy any argument which seeks to diminish the significance of the horror of this crime. It is treated so seriously precisely because of the cold-blooded calculation and premeditation required, and because of the horrific effects it has upon its victims. In order for kidnapping to be an effective tool, the kidnappers need to be prepared to kill the victims. Without this possibility, they have no leverage. Anyone arguing that those children weren't at severe risk of death, or that the conditions were not absolutely terrifying, just really doesn't grasp the horror of such a situation to those who suffered through it. That act has scarred people who weren't even there.

Nor do I buy the argument that their possible parole will have any effect whatsoever on the future actions of would-be kidnappers. This assumes logic and rational thought on the part of kidnappers. The problem with this argument is that kidnapping for gain in America is a deeply flawed and illogical crime. The very nature of the crime requires contact with law enforcement once a crime has been committed. Kidnapping also brings the full weight of the FBI to bear on the case, and the assets of the Federal Government. Therefore the kidnappers pretty much always get caught. Kidnappers live a fantasy world where they can outmaneuver all the professionals trained in dealing with such cases and somehow get away. They don't consider the possibility of getting caught, or they wouldn't do it in the first place. As to the deterrence effect of sentencing, I've never much bought it, and it's been noted before that when pickpocketing was a hanging offense in England, a public hanging was one of the likeliest places to get one's pocket picked.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:37 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


And from a psychiatrist who studied the victims: "Nearly all of the children told Terr in her final interviews with them in 1980-1 that they held little hope for a happy future, a long life, or a life free from similar major traumas."

This incident must have occurred near the beginning of the victim industry. It's certainly grown rapidly in the intervening thirty years.
posted by fairmettle at 3:28 AM on April 4, 2011


i'd parole them on the condition that they spend the rest of their working lives doing public service - even if that's just picking trash up off the roads - let them work at redeeming themselves

Maybe make them drive buses for underprivileged kids for the rest of their lives. Force them to really hate busses!
posted by greenhornet at 4:10 AM on April 4, 2011


This incident must have occurred near the beginning of the victim industry. It's certainly grown rapidly in the intervening thirty years.

Are you talking about this?

Gay people, minorities, women are all crybabies kind of thing? (These guys don't know how to spell "fetishism," by the way.) What does this have to do with anything? Are you saying the kids and their parents should have sucked it up and not talked to a psychiatrist? What are you saying?
posted by taz at 4:20 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having never heard of this incident before, the ominous tone of the article had me thinking all of the kids had died until I read about the escape halfway down the page.
posted by emd3737 at 5:11 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Invariably described as "clean-cut," they had never before been in trouble with the law. In high school, Woods wore Hush Puppy loafers and button-down shirts at a time when other teenagers were wearing bell bottoms and love beads. Both Schoenfeld brothers were Eagle Scouts.

Will the parole board take into the societal cost of yet another hipster?
posted by srboisvert at 5:11 AM on April 4, 2011


These guys are probably idiots and may not have realized how traumatic the experience would be for the kids.

This alone is reason enough to keep them away from the public.
posted by odinsdream at 5:41 AM on April 4, 2011


This is just breathtakingly wrong. This is not how trauma affects children. Those children were brutalized, and might easily have died if the kidnappers hadn't also been incompetent, lazy, dip-shits. There are people commenting in this thread who had it negatively affect them. Try studying this issue a bit before making such asinine assertions.

This is actually pretty wrong, not because trauma does not affect some children as you say, but because you write categorically. Trauma affects different people differently, and the single biggest problem with our current focus on the psychological sequelae to trauma is that we (as a society) are beginning to treat it as deterministic. We shouldn't reify "resilience," but neither should we make the mistake of condemning those who experience trauma. The poster who said that some of the children might have come to think of the ordeal as an adventure was well within the bounds of our current understanding of how traumas are experienced and processed. That none of them apparently did does not obviate the poster's point.
posted by OmieWise at 5:45 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm with the keep 'em locked up side here.

Sheer luck none of those kids died. Fuck sociopaths. Let them rot. It's not just punishment. It's a deterrent to other rich sociopaths.
posted by spitbull at 5:55 AM on April 4, 2011


nonmerci: "I agree what they did was heinous and thoughtless, but life imprisonment? How is such a sentence in any way justified"

Because they showed a heinous level of callousness and disregard for the lives of others. I'm perfectly comfortable accepting that, in doing so, they forfeited theirs.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:56 AM on April 4, 2011


From The Crime Library:

Additionally, Terr found in her later contacts with the children that many were suffering from physical problems that Terr suspected were actually prolonged emotional reactions to the kidnapping; for example, bladder problems caused by the long captivity in the transport vans without a bathroom, obesity that might be tied to the child's fear that he or she was eventually going to be starved, and one girl in her early teens who had virtually not grown an inch since she experienced the ordeal at age nine.
posted by anniecat at 5:56 AM on April 4, 2011


These guys are probably idiots and may not have realized how traumatic the experience would be for the kids.

Well, if you are forcing a whole bunch of hysterical kids who have pissed and shit themselves with fear into a giant hole in the ground, and you're throwing dirt on top of their enclosure while they wail away beneath you, and you can't figure that might be traumatic for them, you might be a sociopath.

But hey I'm not doctor, what do I know.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:00 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm really not inclined to vote for mercy on the basis that they had some kind of air recirculation device in the van. Something that works fine when you're using the van as it's intended to be used could easily break down when you do something with the van that's not in the manual--like, say, burying it--and we already know that these guys weren't exactly Lex Luthor. They were one simple mechanical breakdown away from looking at twenty-seven counts of murder one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:07 AM on April 4, 2011


I think I saw this story on Unsolved Mysteries or something as a child, and it has haunted me FOR LIFE. So scary.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:12 AM on April 4, 2011


What are you saying?

They're saying they're an Internet Tough Guy.
posted by kmz at 6:41 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


"And from a psychiatrist who studied the victims: "Nearly all of the children told Terr in her final interviews with them in 1980-1 that they held little hope for a happy future, a long life, or a life free from similar major traumas."

This incident must have occurred near the beginning of the victim industry. It's certainly grown rapidly in the intervening thirty years.
posted by fairmettle at 3:28 AM on April 4 [+] [!]


I do Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with children. Foreshortened future is serious side effect of PTSD, regardless of age, and is a major driver behind suicide behavior and suicidal ideation. As much as you may think that these kids were putting on for sympathy, I deal with kids every day who have been through similarly traumatic events and who genuinely believe they have, at best, years to live. They see suicide as a legitimate response to setbacks and negative situations because they feel they have no control over there lives and, besides, they think they'll be dead soon anyway.
posted by Benjy at 6:55 AM on April 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


Jesus. I've never heard of this episode before, but as a parent of elementary-aged kids, my first reaction would be to gut each of these men with a goddamned butterknife, if given the opportunity. Parole, my ass.
posted by Sublimity at 7:04 AM on April 4, 2011


jessamyn: " I remember reading Kidnapped! At Chowchilla in my elementary school's library,"

I'm not familiar with elementary school libraries these days, but I always hear (so secondhand that what I hear, I question) that kids are "protected" these days from books like this. I remember reading so many freaky, scary books like that (read: awesome!) in my elementary school library -- I remember the gruesome details of people near-trapped in Mt. Saint Helens and being shocked in second grade that the journalist quoted on the first page said "Oh my God, this is Hell." (the Lord's name in vain AND H-E-double hockey-sticks in the same sentence -- obviously, this is going to be a great book) and wonder if anybody who is familiar could tell me, do kids still get to do this? Because, even to me, it seems odd that Scholastic seemed to have a True Crime/Natural Disaster section. (Though, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my (fairly awesome) elementary school librarian may have been responsible for making it just seem that way.)

As for the story itself, I can't believe I've also never heard of it. What's more -- it's such a television trope for cop/action shows (school bus full of kids kidnapped) that I can't believe I never assumed it was based on some sort of real occurrence.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:12 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. Just a prank? No harm done? The people arguing for leniency scare me.
posted by edheil at 7:16 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read this story without the graphic and though I understood everyone's anti-parole reaction, I also thought "this is why we have a justice system which is driven by laws and not by everybody's 'gut reaction'."

Then I got on my desktop and saw the half-buried truck. And I had the same gut reaction. But I'm still glad we have that justice system, even if it doesn't do what I'd want it to do in the same situation.

That said, and this is probably proof that I've seen too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU where somebody grabs a cop's gun to exact revenge, but I really can't help but agree that these guys would be safer behind bars. Because though everybody's spouting off here on what they'd do "if it was them" and it seems a little OTT at first, I would expect the same reactions from at least some of the real victims. Thirty-five years is a long time behind bars but it's also a long time to grow up terrified.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:21 AM on April 4, 2011


I won't speak as to whether these perpetrators should be able to receive parole eventually (article says only one has been approved as eligible and has 10 more years of hoops before getting to the possibility of parole), but all 27 victims and their families damn well better be allowed to speak before or write to the parole board if they want.

Each and every one of them.
posted by zizzle at 7:23 AM on April 4, 2011


Holy shit. Just a prank? No harm done? The people arguing for leniency scare me.

I don't think anybody's arguing this.

However, we are arguing that actual murderers have gotten off on Parole before 35 years.

Vacapinta's point also resonates. Why not just murder the kids if the punishments for kidnapping and murder are the same? That's an absolutely terrible incentive for the legal system to set up.
posted by schmod at 7:27 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Murder can sometimes be less heinous than this: self-defense, crimes of passion, even a psychotic break which requires more treatment than punishment. This was a scheme; these men plotted their crime and carried it out, doing irreparable harm to 27 people in the process. Did those people die? No. Were their lives made worse, in perpetuity, by the kidnappers' actions? Yes. The crime is compounded by the length of time that it can be expected to psychologically affect its victims: hundreds of years, in sum.

Leave them in prison.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


schmod, a former JUDGE in the article said it was just a prank. No on here. But in the article, a retired legal professional involved in this case used the term, and it is akin to, "Boys will be boys."
posted by zizzle at 7:53 AM on April 4, 2011


Meanwhile the "other person" with the actions of a sociopath - Corporations - are able to mostly avoid meaningful legal sanctions.

An example from this week:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/03/us-bank-mexico-drug-gangs
posted by rough ashlar at 7:56 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once you've kidnapped kids you might as well kill them if the law will treat you the same either way.

I don't really know what to do with that information.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2011


Except that's not what happened.

It is what happened. There were two periods of confinement. Ten hours in a van with no food, water or bathrooms. Then 16 hours in the underground ventilated truck where they all had to use the bathroom in front of each other and many of them had had to give some of their clothing to the captors. The bus driver had to give up his pants.

And at some level, once you've been stuck in a moving van for ten hours the fact that your captors have done non-crazy things like stick you in a windowless box with ventilation doesn't really mitigate your feeling that something truly terrible may be about to happen. Again, I'm not saying this is my argument for/against parole, just that people may be misconstruing what did/did not happen.
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 AM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Once you've kidnapped kids you might as well kill them if the law will treat you the same either way.

I can understand that line of thought, but it really doesn't resonate with me because it ascribes rationality and forethought to acts that are inherently irrational and very often poorly planned. The people that commit such heinous acts aren't necessarily thinking that they're going to be caught or else they wouldn't do them in the first place, so the idea that they might pause to coolly weigh their actions in a rational way in the middle of a highly stressful situation rings false.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:35 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nor do I buy the argument that their possible parole will have any effect whatsoever on the future actions of would-be kidnappers. This assumes logic and rational thought on the part of kidnappers.

I hear you. And I agree with you on a gut level-that people willing to kidnap a bus full of kids aren't exactly working from the same logic-rational thought-cost/benefit analysis place and you or me. But...
There are studies, such as [I can't find a nonpaywall link to the paper] Radha Iyengar's "I'd Rather Be Hanged for a Sheep than a Lamb: the Unintended Consequences of 'Three-Strikes' Laws" in CA which show that among the unintended consequences of 'ultimate type' [my words] penalties such as assured knowledge that one will go to prison for life or receive the death penalty for a crime one is in the process of of committing, that one will go balls to the wall, if you will [uh, again, my words] since s/he has already secured the harshest penalty s/he can get.

Might as well. Which is pretty damn rational for a crazy murderer/rapist/kidnapper/fill in the blank.
posted by atomicstone at 8:48 AM on April 4, 2011


anniecat: "From The Crime Library:

Additionally, .... one girl in her early teens who had virtually not grown an inch since she experienced the ordeal at age nine.
"

What? What does that sentence even mean? I guess she didn't grow as much as expected? I assume she grew at least an inch, otherwise "virtually" makes no sense. How extremely vague. Maybe they had real evidence that the trauma effected her growth, but this here isn't that... it's a weasel sentence.

I know people who literally didn't grow a whole inch in the same rough time period, and they were just... short.
posted by gilrain at 8:54 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


gilrain, I would imagine the reason it was brought up at all was because probably it was unusual or worrisome for her growth chart.

At 9, kids are still held to a pediatric growth chart, and if her growth was not on mark with her previous growth curve, it would be cause for concern.

I, for example, didn't grow much more than an inch at age 9, but I reached my full-height by age 12. But some kids don't reach their full height until high school. There was probably something serious going on with her for that statement to have made it in there, and it was probably suspected of having something to do with the trauma she experienced.

I agree with you on the vagueness, but I can see how it would have been added, too.
posted by zizzle at 9:07 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Letting them do that in the limited freedom of parole seems like a minor mercy.

No, a 'minor mercy' would be killing the fuckers with a lethal injection instead of what I'd do to them were they to be let out and I was related to one of the kidnapped children.

How on earth is letting these assholes out considered a good idea by anyone, anywhere? Let out all the kids busted for pot or something stupid if you want to save your budget, California. These guys should rot.

Hell, I have nightmares about the Gravedigger episodes of Bones, and that's just TV!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:12 AM on April 4, 2011


Did anyone who thinks they should be paroled and that they're too old to be a danger now actually click on any of the Lawrence Singleton links?
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus Christ. After an assault, I was trapped in a room for all of... maybe 90 seconds while I was escaping and 30 years later I am so freaked out about small spaces I leave all doors open always and can't get in a standard MRI machine. And I'm a fairly mentally well adjusted adult. I cannot imagine the trauma you would carry after being confined in a filthy box and buried alive as a kid.

Those victims are still suffering. I'm a little unclear why the perpetrators should not be.

I also understand that that isn't how we hand our prison sentences in the US but there are a lot of days I cannot exactly recall why that is.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:16 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pix six, please.
Ed Ray thought, the whole time, that the roof was going to go. The youngest child was 5-6; even if they had an imperfect knowledge of the physics involved, they knew for damned sure that 1) they were in mortal danger, and 2) one cannot trust in the assurances of dipshit criminals, even ones wearing Hushpuppies. Look at photo 5. You ever know an 11 year old boy let himself be cuddled by his dad in front of a camera? This was not a lark, not insignificant. RTFA. "Me in Sweden watching Chowchilla. Couldn't hardly believe it," he said. "The whole world was waiting, not understanding how a bus and all those kids could just disappear." Hell, it probably started helicopter parenting.
posted by cookie-k at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2011


These guys are probably idiots and may not have realized how traumatic the experience would be for the kids.

The operative word is "have" as in past tense. There's quite a bit of "they're sociopaths" or "dangers to society". But people change. If they didn't change, there wouldn't be any point to rehabilitation at all. We would either kill people or lock them away. So, yes, they were very bad men, and might still be bad men. One of the things parole boards are tasked with observing is what people are now, not necessarily what they were.

I believe at this point (with the concurring of the parole board) that they no longer pose a risk to society. A merciful society would let them out and keep a close watch on them. And no, they don't "deserve" mercy as if they deserved it, it wouldn't be mercy. Mercy is totally predicated on the actor, not the one who is acted upon.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:27 AM on April 4, 2011


They see suicide as a legitimate response to setbacks and negative situations because they feel they have no control over there lives and, besides, they think they'll be dead soon anyway.

Are you talking about the victims or the perpetrators?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:31 AM on April 4, 2011


Hell, it probably started helicopter parenting.
There were actually a whole slew of high-profile child abduction cases in the '70s and early '80s: Etan Patz, Adam Walsh, Johnny Gosch. I assume there weren't any more child abductions and murders in that era than in any other era, but my sense is that they did receive more publicity and lead to new ideas about parenting. I think you could argue that Chowchilla also played a role in that. I'm not sure, though: the moral of the Patz, Walsh and Gosch cases was sort of "kids should be supervised by adults at all times," and the kids in Chowchilla were supervised by an adult. So maybe the cultural effects were somewhat different.
posted by craichead at 9:35 AM on April 4, 2011


On the one hand, I think they've done enough time that *they* won't do it again.

On the other hand, kidnapping for ransom is rare in this country because it's treated so seriously. There are plenty of places in this world where kidnapping is a relatively easy way to make money. The USA is not one of them. Your capture is virtually guaranteed and your punishment is going to be really, really harsh.

I tend to think harsh penalties are useless for preventing most crimes, but kidnapping for ransom is a bit different. It requires careful premeditation, lots of greed and isn't fueled by emotion. Those characteristics make it one of the few crimes where the economic balance is really heavily influenced by the certainty and harshness of the penalty. It's also horrible enough that maybe it's worth sacrificing the lives of perpetrators to prevent future crimes.
posted by pjaust at 9:58 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gay people, minorities, women are all crybabies kind of thing? What does this have to do with anything? Are you saying the kids and their parents should have sucked it up and not talked to a psychiatrist? What are you saying?

They're saying they're an Internet Tough Guy.


Amusingly revealing ascriptions!

Certainly many people will have lasting psychological injury from such an event. My comment is that a whole industry has sprung up in recent times, and that industry often promotes victimhood for profit as much as service to the community. The more people it can persuade that they are injured (whether they are injured or not), the more business they create for themselves. Though there are many good and skilled people doing victim assessment and counselling, I rank the profession overall as being only slightly more ethical than personal injury lawyers who advertise on TV.
posted by fairmettle at 9:59 AM on April 4, 2011


I believe at this point (with the concurring of the parole board) that they no longer pose a risk to society. A merciful society would let them out and keep a close watch on them.

We are not that society.

Not the 'mercy' part, I mean the 'keep a close eye on them' part. We can't do that in any meaningful way that would actually keep society safe should they decide to do decide to play supervillan again. Google statistics for crimes committed by persons on parole if you want.

So the actual choices are "let them go and mostly cross your fingers" or "keep them locked up". And given we know they are the type of persons who plan kidnappings of a bus filled with kids, I'm preferring 'locked up'.
posted by anti social order at 10:11 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is what happened.

No, it is only part of what happened. Your selective descriptions omit the fact that food and water was provided for the majority of the victims' captivity. You are stating the worst parts in full detail and the less bad parts in only partial detail, omitting any mitigating factors.

No, a 'minor mercy' would be killing the fuckers with a lethal injection instead of what I'd do to them were they to be let out and I was related to one of the kidnapped children.

Do we hand out the death penalty because people were frightened now?
posted by anigbrowl at 10:12 AM on April 4, 2011


Your selective descriptions omit the fact that food and water was provided for the majority of the victims' captivity.

My description was referring to part of what was going on and didn't claim to be descriptive of the entire time they were in captivity. I said that part of their captivity, the ten hours with no food-water-bathroom part, where the kids were puking because of motion sickness, and no one stopped or cared, the part that came first, would likely be fairly traumatic, that's all. Giving children food and water and air and bathrooms is really a bare minimum of "care" to my mind and the fact that they only managed to do this over 60% the time they held the children hostage isn't much of a mitigating circumstance to me.

Again, I am not in the "no parole" camp, I'm just someone who was interested in this story at the time, as someone who was about the same age as the kids who were taken hostage.
posted by jessamyn at 10:22 AM on April 4, 2011


Let's take a real accounting of what happened here. We have 27 kidnapping victims who directly suffered unimaginable horror for about 25 hours. Next we have to figure in the parents and other family members of each victim who were similarly terrorized for this time. Imagine your child is gone and you'll understand how this is indeed terror. At a very conservative estimate of two per each kidnapped, that's 54 more victims.

Now add in the other people who had a significant stake in the well-being of the children during the ordeal -- the school and city administrators, law enforcement officers frantically searching for them, rescuers etc. These people were also forced to endure torture of a sort, that no doubt colored their lives for years. If we put that number at 19, again a conservative estimate I think, we get an even 100.

One hundred people who were effectively tortured, many of whom who no doubt still suffer some trauma. Their lives forever darkened. All because a few assholes wanted to make some easy money.

That means these guys have served about four and a half months for each victim so far. I don't about you guys, but to me that doesn't seem like enough yet.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:32 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anigbrowl, even Greyhound has a bathroom on board all of its buses, and the trips longer than four hours have rest stops for the drivers and the passengers. There are also windows and air circulation.

These were 26 children and a bus driver responsible for their safety thrown into a windowless van with no seats, no food, and no water for 11 hours. Little kids have issues with their bodily functions. They can't always control them, and when they're frightened to death, when they want to just go home to mommy and daddy. These people were left in their own urine and feces for hours. Then they see the perpetrators dumping dirt on to the top of the van. They are, as far as they know, being buried alive, and if you look at the pictures of the van, one could argue that they WERE buried alive in that death trap.

I provide food and water to my son every day. His daycare provides him food and water every day. Many people who commit kidnapping events provide food and water to their victims.

Providing food and water is not a hallmark of being nice or, "Oh, it was just a prank! See, they took care of their victims!" And it sure as hell doesn't change the fact that 27 people, 26 of which were kids, were held against their will for over 24 hours.

But, hey, they were given food and water. Clearly these guys weren't that bad!
posted by zizzle at 10:34 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hell, it probably started helicopter parenting.

It's certainly one of the reasons, along with Larry Singleton & Kenneth Parnell that I struggle with allow my son to have the same level of personal freedom I had as a child. My personal experience (and I readily admit that I have no way of knowing what would have actually happened in that situation) was the topper. It is hard to undo the power of childhood boogymen who happen to be real people. While it's a very small trauma compared to what happened to the people actually involved, it IS a trauma these people inflicted on the public at large. How to figure such a thing (if at all) into the consequences of a crime is beyond my ken.

My husband and I were talking about how to handle such news stories when it comes to our son. I wish my parents had done a better job of shielding me from these stories as a child, but people didn't really understand the impact of these events on children back then. One of the ironic things is that, thanks to the internet, it is somewhat easier to do a "no tv news" media blackout in our house, at least while our son is still small.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:40 AM on April 4, 2011


The problem with public trauma being a factor in sentencing, echolalia67, is that we all know that certain kinds of crime, involving certain kinds of victims, get more publicity and resonate more with the public than other crimes. If you take into account "trauma to the public", then you end up arguing for harsher sentences for the abductors of white children than for the abductors of black children, for instance, since abductions of black children typically get less publicity and result in less "trauma to the public."
posted by craichead at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2011


The 2004 Madrid train bombers are doing 40 years for 190 counts of murder. 30 years is the normal maximum for any sentence in Spain, but it gets bumped up to 40 for terrorism.
posted by queen zixi at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's take a real accounting of what happened here.

Is that the same kind of accounting you do for all crimes? (I'm serious, I have no idea.) We typically don't mete out punishment based on the multiplies suffering engendered by a criminal act. It's sometimes a factor, but not usually with the kind of accounting you're providing. By this kind of accounting, a high school pot dealer, who decreases average GPA for v% of her customers by x%, which could be translated into y% decrease in college admissions, and a resultant z% decrease in lifetime earnings, should be going away for a fuck of a long time.

I'm not an advocate for parole here. I'm honestly torn. But your accounting seems purposely designed to support your desires in this case, rather than as part of a larger rationale for sentencing guidelines.
posted by OmieWise at 10:51 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


craichead: That's one reason why I wouldn't even know how to factor such a thing into punishment. It is a very nebulous thing, I'll admit.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2011


Gilrain- Normal growth can be stunted as a result of childhood malnutrition. While the kidnapping certainly didn't last long enough to stunt a child's growth, if the child was so traumatized/depressed that she stopped eating or ate very little afterwards, it could result in her failing to grow normally. The author, I suspect, was trying to highlight the physical as well as emotional toll on the victims, but it's possible that the victim did stop growing naturally-although 9 seems really young to me. (I'm very short, and I stopped growing when I was 12.)
posted by miss-lapin at 11:33 AM on April 4, 2011


four and a half months for each victim so far. I don't about you guys, but to me that doesn't seem like enough yet.

Maybe. How valuable is four and half months of your life to you? How much would losing that much time by being locked in a cell mean to you?

OK, maybe that doesn't seem like such a big deal, particularly if the prison is humane and safe (heh). Does the effect scale linearly? Because while I think I could handle 4 1/2 months -- heck, I could probably use it to do some good thinking, writing, personal sorting (again, assuming humane and safe conditions) -- you start to look at a year and I don't think the punishment just scales, it compounds. Five years? A whole decade? Your entire 20s, 30s, and 40s? Personally, I have some strong regrets just from wasting some of that time with stupid personal decisions. I doubt most of us can actually even process what it really means to lose all of that time.

I don't think those against parole are overestimating the terrible nature of the crime. It was a hell of a thing to do. But I do think they are underestimating the terrible personal price of imprisonment. A terrible crime like this deserves a terrible price. One has been paid.

Those victims are still suffering. I'm a little unclear why the perpetrators should not be.

I suspect the effects of imprisonment won't stop for the perpetrators immediately any more than they stopped for the victims.
posted by weston at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


My description was referring to part of what was going on and didn't claim to be descriptive of the entire time they were in captivity.

I guess I misinterpreted your remarks above, then. I formed the impression that you were judging the whole incident by those criteria. Sorry.

Let's take a real accounting of what happened here. We have 27 kidnapping victims who directly suffered unimaginable horror for about 25 hours. Next we have to figure in the parents and other family members of each victim [...]

The kidnapping victims suffered, and it was horrific, and went on quite a long time. That's a very serious crime, and it's why the trial court recommended that the kidnappers should serve sentences of not less than 6 months per victim, and thus a minimum of 13.5 years in prison. But it falls a good deal short of 'unimaginable horror,' which seems a more apt description for the example given above by Oriole Adams. As for figuring in the parents and family members, that is not how criminal law works in California or anywhere else in the US that I am aware of. If you think the law should take those things into account for conviction or sentencing, you can campaign for it; but those criteria are meaningless in relation to existing sentences, and it would be unconstitutional for a court to rely on them.

I get that you're trying to express your disgust rather than make a legal argument, but the whole reason we have courts in the first place is because emotion gets in the way of good judgment and frequently ends up leading to further injustice.

But, hey, they were given food and water. Clearly these guys weren't that bad!

Their actions were not as bad as some people have suggested, based on inaccurate information.

Nobody has argued that they were not deserving of a heavy sentence. On the other hand, James Schoenfeld has so far been turned down for parole 20 times. California uses a vague standard for assessing parole eligibility, based on whether 'some evidence' exists that a person might not be suitable for parole. In practice, this can be extended to cover just about anything, and can be employed by anyone between a parole board and the governor to deny parole.

Personally I think this 'some evidence' standard is unconstitutionally vague; the CA Supreme Court disagrees so far, but not unanimously. I believe sentencing policies like this have little to do with justice or public safety, but a lot to do with the prison-industrial complex. As with three strikes and other penal policy, this standard has come about thanks to intense lobbying by the CCPOA, which is the largest PAC in the state. Thanks to the CCPOA, California spends more money on prisons than on higher education. Drug laws are partly to blame, but out of ~160,000 prisoners, only 9,000 are behind bars for simple possession - 9,000 too many, but the point is that drug laws are not the sole issue here.

As I said above, if there is no difference between life without parole and life with the possibility of parole, then criminals have no incentive to limit or mitigate their criminal behavior. Some people argue above that criminals are deeply irrational and thus oblivious to such considerations, but there is abundant evidence to the contrary. Likewise, the Chowchilla kidnappers pleaded guilty, but if there is no consideration given to an admission of guilt then it's more rational for defendants to enter a plea of not guilty and take their chances at trial. Excessively harsh sentencing policy reduces the incentive to cooperate and correspondingly lowers the chance of a conviction; as a result, it can easily make society less safe.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:15 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I said above, if there is no difference between life without parole and life with the possibility of parole, then criminals have no incentive to limit or mitigate their criminal behavior.

In many states, California included, they have the death penalty to consider.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:52 PM on April 4, 2011


35 years is a long time. They'll be over sixty when they get out, and a far cry from those creatures that did this so long ago. I admit, they have to own up to their role in all of this (a prerequisite to parole), but their time is no slouch. They did great damage, I'll admit, damage that will not cease just because they leave prison. But neither will it change that one way or another.

So the actual choices are "let them go and mostly cross your fingers" or "keep them locked up". And given we know they are the type of persons who plan kidnappings of a bus filled with kids, I'm preferring 'locked up'.

If this is the true reason—that once a criminal, always a criminal—there should be no such thing as release. Just like the French Revolution, there can be only two ends to a trial: acquittal or death (or life in prison for our more evolved sensibilities).
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:57 PM on April 4, 2011


The American justice system is unique in the world, and maybe not in a good way. However, some of the arguments put forth here are fairly simplistic.
For one, it seems that deterrence doesn't work. A study I can't find in English showed that child-murder was popular among 18th century nurses in Denmark, because they found the combination of fame and suicide by death penalty attractive.
Also, we all like to say our western system is about punishment, not revenge. But in real life, the laws are made by politicians who are elected by voters. If the point of the law was to minimize crime, law would be something completely different from what it is today. And the demand for revenge is one of several elements shaping law. Most Western countries saw a development towards more reason-based crime-management between 1950 and 1980, and then a strong backlash, driven by cases like Lawrence Singleton. As someone mentioned, there were several of the kind. The professional rehabilitation folks concluded that some criminals were psycho- (now socio)paths, and needed a different sort of treatment, including life-confinement. But in the popular view, rehabilitation had gone too far.

The measures taken since the 80's have provenly had unintended consequences, including crazy levels of incarceration and a harshening of the criminal environment. To me, it all seems stupid. But still I think there is a subset of criminals who just need to be locked up forever.
In this case, my instinct tells me these guys are sociopaths. But I'm not a doctor, I wasn't there and my instincts can be terribly wrong.

Recently I looked up a Danish terror-case from the late 70's (here is the wiki, for Scandinavians). The bomber was 19 when he began setting up in all nine bombs. Four people were wounded, including himself. In my view, this guy must have been totally nuts, and I was scared witless when it was going on. But he was caught, sentenced to five years, released after two, and got himself an education, got married and had two children before he died from a heart-failure at the young age of 38.
This has given me food for thought. Still no conclusions, in my mind.
posted by mumimor at 1:00 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


bitter-girl.com writes "How on earth is letting these assholes out considered a good idea by anyone, anywhere? Let out all the kids busted for pot or something stupid if you want to save your budget, California. These guys should rot."

California's budget issues should be orthogonal to whether these guys get parole.

DarlingBri writes "I cannot imagine the trauma you would carry after being confined in a filthy box and buried alive as a kid. "Those victims are still suffering. I'm a little unclear why the perpetrators should not be."I also understand that that isn't how we hand our prison sentences in the US but there are a lot of days I cannot exactly recall why that is."

Because 1st strike life imprisonment for crimes with victims (pretty well all crimes with victims are going to have at least a small percentage of the victims who are traumatized for life) is incredibly cruel and something a totalitarian dictatorship sets as justice policy. Imprisoned people are dead weight while they are in prison. You want to get those people rehabilitated and contributing.

craichead writes "There were actually a whole slew of high-profile child abduction cases in the '70s and early '80s: Etan Patz, Adam Walsh, Johnny Gosch. I assume there weren't any more child abductions and murders in that era than in any other era, but my sense is that they did receive more publicity and lead to new ideas about parenting."

Violent crime pretty well peaked in the US during the late 70s and 80s. Things have actually gotten continuously better since then though murders have kind of plateaued in the last five years or so.
posted by Mitheral at 4:42 PM on April 4, 2011


The American justice system is unique in the world...

What?
posted by doublehappy at 5:08 PM on April 4, 2011


I will posit that 35 years in prison is, in fact, a life sentence.

What these men did was sinister, there is no doubt. I will lose no sleep if they rot to dust in prison. But, practically, I do not believe that keeping them in until they die does anything to redeem anybody about anything. All it does is reinforce how abhorrent we believe their actions were, 35 years ago. It does not serve to punish them for the crime they committed, but to punish them for the crime we are suddenly now imagining, children hot and sweltering buried alive, sure of their deaths that did not come. It is a horrible thing to put in any person's mind.

Like I said, I'm okay if we let them rot. Let them grow old and weak and whithered and liver-spotted in prison. I don't care. But, these men, they have spent life in prison.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:47 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


It does not serve to punish them for the crime they committed, but to punish them for the crime we are suddenly now imagining ...

I think this point deserves highlighting.
posted by doublehappy at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is actually more interesting to me is that so many involved in the investigation and prosecution of the case are agitating for parole.

From various sources:
* Lead prosecutor David Minier, now a retired Madera County judge, sent a letter in support

* "Another judge advocating their release was William Newsom, then a justice on the state Court of Appeal, who wrote the parole board in 1988. He had been the author of the appellate decision upholding their conviction."

* [from 1996] "the late Leo Deegan, the judge who sentenced them to life behind bars, recommended 10 years ago that they be paroled. Dale Fore, a retired Madera County sheriff's sergeant who helped with the investigation and who more recently worked for Woods' lawyer, thinks they have served enough time. Ed Volpe, the Alameda County sheriff's lieutenant who coordinated the probe, believes they "absolutely" should be paroled. "I really don't believe in my heart that they are a threat to society," he said. 'If they were let out tomorrow, you wouldn't hear from those kids again.'"

* "Retired Madera County Sheriff Edward Bates, no coddler of criminals, wrote the parole board several times when one or another of the kidnappers came up for a hearing, saying he was "pleased with the sentences imposed." It's a standard letter, one the parole board expects, and usually gets, from law enforcement.

But in 1988, a discussion with the kidnappers' attorneys raised new questions in Bates' mind. In his next letter, he added a couple of crucially different paragraphs.

'I am disturbed about the ultimate 'fairness' of the sentencing procedure in the (Chowchilla) case,' he wrote the parole board. 'We often find some serious crime violators with a history of violence and even torture being allowed parole after a relatively short period of serving their prison term. Yet we find the defendants in (this) case still incarcerated.'"
So nearly everyone involved in prosecuting them eventually became extremely invested in promoting their parole, including the judge who originally sentenced them to life without parole. Typically, we see activist groups pressing for parole, overturning of sentencing, or retrial, and even in the cases where it seems really obvious that the prisoner is probably not guilty (new evidence/DNA findings/confession from someone else), the state generally, and those connected with the arrest, prosecution and sentencing, specifically, usually remain extremely reluctant, even in the face of wide public support for the prisoner. Even when the prisoner is on death row, and it seems very, very likely that he is innocent.

In this situation there isn't actually a question about guilt, and whatever the merits of the argument, the issue of possible parole is tremendously unpopular, yet we see a nearly unanimous active drive supporting the kidnappers on the part of the former prosecution side, which makes me feel that some heavy duty influence is has been exerted. I'd really love to know more about that.

Between the political advantage for current elected players in not granting parole, and what seems very much like money and influence from the rich families of the kidnappers influencing former players, a fair and objective evaluation from a non-self-interested expert entity seems to be the one thing that's missing from the debate.
posted by taz at 11:56 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


It does not serve to punish them for the crime they committed, but to punish them for the crime we are suddenly now imagining ...


Sometimes in life you make decisions where you don't get a second chance. Kidnapping a bus full of kids is probably one of those.
posted by anti social order at 8:06 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can see where you're coming from but I don't want to live in a world without second chances.
posted by doublehappy at 3:24 PM on April 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Los Angeles Times: Parole board grants release date for man convicted in 1976 Chowchilla kidnapping
California’s parole board Tuesday upheld an earlier decision that deemed one of three men responsible for kidnapping 26 Chowchilla schoolchildren and their school bus driver in 1976 suitable for parole.

But Richard Schoenfeld, now 56, would not be scheduled for release until 2021, and his parole would have to clear several more hurdles, including a review by the governor, said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the parole board.
posted by hat at 12:59 AM on April 6, 2011


Nice. They're releasing him at age 66, just in time to be less of a burden on the prison system's budget due to the cost of his aging, and more of a burden on the rest of society as a whole, in part because he will likely never be able to support himself.

I guess that it's better to take a man in to prison and churn out a bum, rather than taking a man into prison and churning out someone who commits more criminal acts.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:55 AM on April 6, 2011


Is there some reason they would not inherit from their parents? Let them as made 'em support 'em.
posted by cookie-k at 5:35 PM on April 6, 2011


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