HONOLULU (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a man from prison immediately after his lawyers presented new evidence and argued that he did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted and for which he spent more than 20 years incarcerated: the 1991 murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman visiting Hawaii.
Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, who was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to 130 years in prison, must be “immediately released from his shackles,” judge Peter Kubota ruled.
That drew applause from the Hilo courtroom and hugs for Schweitzer, who was flown 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 during a phone interview, recalling the moment of his release. “Nerves, anxiety, fear.”
The justice system is “flawed,” he said, calling himself one of the many jailed for crimes they didn’t commit. He previously told reporters that he was “grateful” that the judge did “something honorable.”
A petition filed Monday night outlined additional evidence in one of Hawaii’s biggest murders, which unfolded on Christmas Eve 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 assaulted, and later died at Hilo Medical Center. The wrecked bike she was riding on was found several miles away and appeared to have been struck by a vehicle.
The murder of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia garnered national attention and remained unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on police to find the killer.
“Any time you have a white, female victim … she gets a lot more attention than people of color and Native Hawaiians,” said Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project. “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 the help of the Innocence Project in New York, the co-counsel in the case, Lawson’s group represented Schweitzer, the last of three Native Hawaiian men convicted of Ireland’s death to remain in prison.
DNA evidence submitted earlier in the case belonged to an unknown man, and the three convicted men were excluded as sources.
New DNA evidence, according to the petition, shows that a “Jimmy Z” brand T-shirt found near Ireland and soaked with his blood belonged to the same unknown man, and not to one of the three men, as prosecutors claimed.
Additionally, a new analysis of the tire treads concluded that Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle car did not leave tire marks in any of the locations where Ireland and his bike were found. A coroner’s odontologist also concluded that a lesion on his left breast was not a bite mark, as previously believed, according to the petition.
“In a new trial today, a jury would 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 engaged in a sexual assault and left no trace of biological evidence, including lack of evidence discovered with advanced forensic testing, 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 lawyers and Hawaii County prosecutors signed a “conviction integrity agreement” to reinvestigate the case. It was the first time in Hawaii that there had been this type of agreement, Lawson said, which is increasingly being used to reexamine questionable convictions and guard against future wrongdoing.
“Over the last three years, we have shared information and re-examined forensic evidence. Regardless of the outcome of these post-conviction proceedings, we remain committed to identifying Unknown Man #1 and seeking justice for Dana Ireland and her `ohana,” Hawaii County Attorney Kelden Waltjen said in a statement earlier of the ruling, using the Hawaiian word. for the family.”
However, Assistant District Attorney Shannon Kagawa asked the judge to deny the request, saying the new evidence would not change the outcome of a new trial.
Kubota disagreed, saying that based on the new evidence, a jury would acquit Schweitzer.
Much of the background to the Ireland case is detailed in a document filed with the petition that lists the facts set forth by defense attorneys and prosecutors.
In 1994, the police made what they believed to be a breakthrough. A man facing charges over his role in a cocaine conspiracy contacted police and claimed his half-brother, Frank Pauline Jr., witnessed the Ireland attack, according to the stipulated facts document.
Police interviewed Pauline, who was in her third month of a 10-year sentence for unrelated sexual assault and robbery. She 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 says.
Despite a lack of evidence linking them to the murder, the two Schweitzers and Pauline were indicted in 1997.
At one point, the charges were dismissed because the three men were excluded as the source of the semen found in Ireland and on a hospital gurney sheet. They were charged again after another informant claimed that Ian Schweitzer confessed to him in jail that Pauline raped and killed Ireland.
Pauline later said that she offered details to police about Ireland’s murder so that the drug charges against her half-brother would be dropped.
In a prison interview with A&E’s “American Justice,” Pauline compared her story to the story of the boy who cried wolf. “It wasn’t me,” she said with a thick Pidgin Hawaiian accent. But when she started to tell the truth, she said that no one believed her.
Shawn Schweitzer made a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping, and receive credit for approximately one year served and five years of probation, after watching jurors convict Pauline and her 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 child and encouraged Shawn Schweitzer to do what he had to do to come home and not suffer the same fate as his brother.” he”.
Shawn Schweitzer “continues to feel immense guilt for accepting the confession and pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit and falsely implicating his brother,” the document says.
A polygraph test in November showed he was telling the truth when he denied any involvement in the murder, according to the document.
Pauline was murdered in a New Mexico prison by a fellow prisoner in 2015.
Being back in Hawaii “tastes great,” Schweitzer told the AP.
“The air is good,” he said. “The water is good.”