HONOLULU (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a man from prison immediately after his lawyers presented new evidence, arguing that he committed the crimes for which he was convicted and for which he was imprisoned for more than 20 years , had not committed: the 1991 murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault of a woman visiting Hawaii.
Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, who was sentenced to 130 years in prison in 2000, should “be freed from his bonds immediately,” judge Peter Kubota ruled.
That drew applause in 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 everywhere,” Schweitzer told the AP during a phone interview, recalling the moment of his release. “Nerves, Fear, Fear.”
The justice system is “flawed,” he said, calling himself one of many imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. He previously told reporters he was “grateful” for the judge doing the “honorable cause.”
A petition filed late Monday outlined additional evidence of one of Hawaii’s biggest murders, which occurred on Christmas Eve 1991 on the Big Island.
Dana Ireland, 23, was found barely alive in the bushes along a fishing path in Puna, a remote part of the island. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten and later died at Hilo Medical Center. The mangled bicycle she was riding was found several kilometers away and appeared to have been hit by a vehicle.
The murder of the blonde, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia drew national attention and went unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on police to find the killer.
“Whenever 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. “The parents got understandably angry. … There was an insurmountable pressure to solve this case. And when that happens, mistakes are made. Some intentionally and some unintentionally.”
Ireland’s relatives could not be immediately reached for comment on the petition and Schweitzer’s release. Prosecutors did not immediately comment on Schweitzer’s release.
With the help of the Innocence Project in New York, co-counsel in the case, Lawson’s group represented Schweitzer, the last of three native Hawaiians who had been convicted of Ireland’s death and remained incarcerated.
DNA evidence previously presented in the case belonged to an unknown man and all three convicted men have been excluded as sources.
New DNA evidence shows a “Jimmy Z” T-shirt found near Ireland and soaked in her blood belonged to the same unidentified man and not one of the three men, prosecutors claimed, according to the petition .
Additionally, a new tire tread analysis concluded that Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle left no tire tracks at either location where Ireland and her bike were found. A forensic odontologist also concluded that an injury to her left breast was not a bite mark, as previously thought, the petition said.
“At a new trial today, a jury would not convict Mr. Schweitzer of the sexual assault and murder of Ms. Ireland,” the petition reads. “In fact, a prosecutor probably wouldn’t even arrest Mr. Schweitzer for this crime.”
The likelihood that all three men took part in a sexual assault and left no trace of biological evidence — including a lack of evidence uncovered by advanced forensic testing — is “extremely unlikely,” the petition reads.
In 2019, Schweitzer’s attorneys and Hawaii County prosecutors entered into a “conviction integrity agreement” to re-examine the case. It was the first time in Hawaii that there has been this type of agreement, Lawson said, which is increasingly being used to review questionable convictions and protect against future errors.
“For the past three years, we have exchanged information and re-examined forensic evidence. Regardless of the outcome of this post-conviction proceeding, we remain committed to identifying Unknown Man #1 and demanding justice for Dana Ireland and her ohana,” Hawaii County Attorney Kelden Waltjen said in a statement before the verdict, whereby he used the Hawaiian word for “family”.
However, assistant prosecutor Shannon Kagawa asked the judge to dismiss the petition, saying the new evidence would not change the outcome of a new trial.
Kubota disagreed, saying that a jury would acquit Schweitzer based on the new evidence.
Much of the background to the Irish case is set out in a document filed with the petition, which lists facts established by defense counsel and prosecutors.
In 1994, the police made what they believed to be a major breakthrough. A man charged with his role in a cocaine conspiracy contacted police and claimed his half-brother, Frank Pauline Jr., witnessed the Irish attack, the mandatory fact document says.
Police questioned Pauline, who was serving the third month of a 10-year sentence on unrelated sexual assault and theft charges. He claimed brothers Ian and Shawn Schweitzer attacked and killed Ireland. But he was questioned at least seven times and each time gave conflicting statements, eventually incriminating himself, the determination document said.
Despite the lack of evidence for the murder, the two Schweitzers and Pauline were charged in 1997.
Eventually, the charges were dropped because all three men were ruled out as a source of semen, which was found in Ireland and on a hospital bed sheet. They were charged again after another informant claimed that Ian Schweitzer confessed to him in prison that Pauline had raped and killed Ireland.
Pauline later said he offered police details of the murder in Ireland in exchange for dropping the drug charges against his half-brother.
In a prison interview with the A&E show American Justice, Pauline compared his story to the story of the boy who cried wolf. “I wasn’t,” he said in a heavy Hawaiian pidgin accent. But when he started telling the truth, he said no one believed him.
Shawn Schweitzer struck a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping – and receive 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 destiny document, he pleaded guilty because his “parents didn’t want to risk losing another son and encouraged Shawn Schweitzer to do what he had to do to get home and not meet the same fate as his brother suffer”.
Shawn Schweitzer “continues to feel immense guilt for agreeing to the confession and entering a guilty plea to a crime he did not commit and falsely implicating his brother,” the document reads.
A lie detector test in November showed he was telling the truth when he denied any involvement in the murder, the document said.
Pauline was killed by a fellow inmate in a New Mexico prison in 2015.
Being back in Hawaii “tastes great,” Schweitzer told the AP.
“The air is good,” he said. “The water is good.”