The Chowchilla Kidnapping
On August 4th, the three young men were reunited in a small courtroom in Chowchilla. In court, Jim and Fred pleaded innocent to 40+ felony charges (Rick had entered a similar plea several days earlier).
The process then moved more slowly, so that it wasn't until November that, after repeated requests by the defense, the trial was moved west from Chowchilla's Madera County to Alameda County, which was home to Oakland and Berkeley.
Even after the change in venue, Baugh and Morgan noted: "the case ground through the courts for months as motions were made, granted or denied, and then appealed."
After numerous and complicated legal maneuvers, the final court appearance of the trio was anti-climactic. On July 25, 1977, one year and ten days after the crime, the three pled guilty to 27 counts of kidnapping for ransom without inflicting injury.
The prosecution argued that injury had been inflicted, and later that year a judge heard testimony from Ed, the children, and various medical professionals. On December 15, 1977, the judge told the accused and the court that he had found "..beyond reasonable doubt that there was bodily harm. I made my finding (based) on the testimony of (three of the) children. I think they are telling the truth. The kidnapping itself was a classic violation of bodily security, and this was an aggravated kidnapping. (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."
The three young men, still only in their 20s, were sentenced to life without possibility of parole, which was changed in 1981 to life with the possibility of parole.