HONOLULU (AP) —
A petition filed Monday outlining new evidence in one of Hawaii’s largest criminal cases asks a judge to release a native Hawaiian man who has spent more than 20 years in prison for sexual assault, kidnapping and murder of a white woman on the Big Island.
On Christmas Eve 1991, 23-year-old Dana Ireland was found barely alive in the bushes along a fishing trail in Puna, a remote district of the Big Island. She was sexually assaulted and beaten, and later died at the Hilo hospital. The wrecked bicycle she was riding was found several miles away and was reportedly 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.
“Anytime 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, who are co-counsels, Lawson’s group represents Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, the last of three native Hawaiians convicted of Ireland’s death to remain incarcerated.
It was previously known that the DNA evidence in the case belonged to an unknown man and that the three convicted men were excluded as a source. But what’s new, according to the petition, is 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.
In addition, according to the petition, a new analysis of the tire tread found that Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle did not leave tire marks in any of the locations where Ireland and his bike were found. And a forensic odontologist 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 none discovered with advanced forensic testing, is “extraordinarily unlikely,” the petition said.
At a hearing expected to be scheduled, a judge will consider the defense’s request to vacate Schweitzer’s sentence and release him.
Ireland’s next of kin could not immediately be reached for comment on the petition.
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.
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 factual 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 had 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, but they were charged again after another informant claimed that Ian Schweitzer gave him confessed 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”.
He “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 and Ian Schweitzer is serving his 130-year sentence in an Arizona prison due to a lack of space for inmates in Hawaii.
“Mr. Schweitzer has spent more than two decades wrongfully imprisoned based on unreliable informant evidence and accident reconstruction testimony,” the petition states. “It would be inconceivable that he would continue to be incarcerated, given this overwhelming new evidence of innocence.”