Judge orders the release of a Hawaii man in the case of a 1991 rape and murder : NPR
HONOLULU — A judge on Tuesday ordered a man released from prison immediately after his lawyers presented new evidence and argued he did not commit the crimes he was convicted of and spent more than 20 years locked up for: murder , the 1991 kidnapping and sexual assault. attack of a woman visiting Hawaii.
Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, who was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to 130 years in prison, should “be freed from his murder immediately,” decided Judge Peter Kubota.
That led to applause in the Hilo courtroom and hugs for Schweitzer, who flew to the Big Island for the hearing from the Arizona prison where he was serving his sentence.
“My feelings were all over the place,” Schweitzer told the AP in a telephone interview when recalling the moment of his release. “Nerves, anxiety, fear.”
The justice system is “flawed,” he said, calling himself one of the many in prison for crimes they did not commit. Earlier he told reporters that he was “grateful” for the judge who did the “honorable thing.”
A petition filed late Monday described additional evidence in one of Hawaii’s worst murders, which took place on Christmas Eve in 1991 on the Big Island.
Dana Ireland, 23, was found barely alive in the bushes along a fishing trail in Puna, a remote section of the island. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten, and later died at Hilo Medical Center. The dead bicycle she was riding was found several kilometers away and it appeared that she had been hit by a vehicle.
The murder of the blond-haired, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia gained national attention and remained unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on police to find the killer.
“Whenever you have a white victim, a woman… it gets a lot more attention than people of color and Native Hawaiians,” said Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project. “The parents, understandably, were getting more and more angry. … There was insurmountable pressure to solve this case. And when that happens, mistakes are made. Some intentional and some unintentional.”
With help from the Innocence Project in New York, co-counsel in the case, Lawson’s group represented Schweitzer, the last of three Native Hawaiian men convicted in Ireland’s death who had remained the prison.
The DNA evidence previously brought forward in the case was of an unknown man and the three convicted men were ruled out as sources.
New DNA evidence, according to the petition, shows a “Jimmy Z” brand T-shirt that was found near Ireland and soaked in its blood belonged to the same unknown man, and not to one of the three men, as the prosecutors claimed.
Additionally, a new tire analysis concluded that Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle car did not leave tire marks at any of the locations where Ireland and her bike were found. A forensic odontologist also concluded that an injury on her left breast was not a bitemark, as previously thought, the petition said.
“In a new trial today, a jury did not convict Mr. Schweitzer of the sexual assault and murder of Ms. Ireland,” the petition said. “In fact, a prosecutor probably wouldn’t even arrest Mr. Schweitzer for this crime.”
The likelihood that the three men participated in a sexual assault and left no trace of biological evidence – including a lack of evidence uncovered by advanced forensic tests – is “extraordinarily unlikely”, the petition said.
Ireland’s relatives could not immediately be reached for comment on the petition and Schweitzer’s release. Prosecutors did not immediately comment on Schweitzer’s release.
In 2019, Schweitzer’s attorneys and Hawaii County prosecutors entered into a “conviction integrity agreement” to reinvestigate the case. It was the first time in Hawaii there had been this type of agreement, Lawson said, which is increasingly being used to reexamine questionable convictions and guard against future mistakes.
“Over the past three years, we have shared information and re-examined forensic evidence. No matter the outcome in these post-conviction proceedings, we remain committed to identifying unknown man #1 and seeking justice for Dana Ireland and her ‘ohana,” Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen said in a statement before the sentencing, using the Hawaiian word for “family.”
However, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Shannon Kagawa asked the judge to dismiss the petition, saying that the new evidence does not change the outcome of a new trial.
Kubota disagreed, saying that based on the new evidence, a jury will acquit Schweitzer.
Much of the background on Ireland’s case is detailed in a document filed with the petition that lists facts stipulated by defense attorneys and prosecutors.
In 1994, the police made what they believed to be a major breakthrough. A man facing charges for his role in a cocaine conspiracy contacted police and claimed that his half-brother, Frank Pauline Jr., witnessed the Ireland attack, according to the fact sheet.
Police interviewed Pauline, who was in the third month of a 10-year sentence for unrelated sexual assault and theft. He claimed that brothers Ian and Shawn Schweitzer attacked and killed Ireland. But he was interviewed at least seven times and gave inconsistent accounts each time, eventually incriminating himself, the stipulation document said.
Despite the lack of evidence linking them to the murder, the two Schweitzers and Pauline were charged in 1997.
At one point the charges were dismissed because the three men were ruled out as the source of the semen found in Ireland and on a hospital gurney sheet. They were again accused after another informant claimed that Ian Schweitzer confessed to him in prison that Pauline raped and killed Ireland.
Pauline later said he offered police details about Ireland’s murder in order to drop drug charges against his half-brother.
In a prison interview with the A&E program “American Justice,” Pauline compared his story to the tale of the boy who cried wolf. “It wasn’t me,” he said in a thick Hawaiian Pidgin accent. But when he started telling the truth, he said no one believed him.
Shawn Schweitzer took a plea deal to manslaughter and kidnapping — and received credit for about a year served and five years of probation — after watching juries convict Pauline and his brother in 2000.
In October, Shawn Schweitzer met with prosecutors and recanted. According to the stipulation document, he pleaded guilty because “his parents did not want to risk losing another son and encouraged Shawn Schweitzer to do what he needed to do to come home and not suffer the same fate as his brother” .
Shawn Schweitzer “continues to feel great guilt for accepting the confession and entering a guilty plea for a crime he did not commit and for falsely implicating his brother,” the document said.
A polygraph test in November proved he was telling the truth when he denied any involvement in the murder, the document said.
Pauline was killed in a New Mexico prison by another inmate in 2015.
Being back in Hawaii “tastes great,” Schweitzer told the AP.
“The air is good,” he said. “The water is good.”