HONOLULU– A petition filed Monday containing new evidence in one of Hawaii’s biggest murder cases is asking a judge to release a Hawaiian native who has served more than 20 years in prison for the sexual assault, kidnapping and murder of a white woman on the Big Island.
On Christmas Eve 1991, Dana Ireland, 23, was found barely alive in the bushes along a fishing trail in Puna, a remote Big Island district. She was sexually assaulted and beaten and later died in Hilo Hospital. The mangled bike she was riding was found several miles away, and she 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.”
With help from the Innocence Project in New York, which is a co-adviser, Lawson’s group is representing Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, the last of three native Hawaiians convicted of Ireland’s death to remain incarcerated.
It was previously known that DNA evidence in the case belonged to an unknown man and all three convicted men were excluded as sources. According to the petition, however, what is new is that a “Jimmy Z” T-shirt found near Ireland and soaked in her blood belonged to the same unknown man – and not one of the three men, as prosecutors claimed.
In addition, the petition said, 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. And a forensic odontologist 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 participated in a sexual assault and left no trace of biological evidence — even none uncovered by advanced forensic testing — is “extremely unlikely,” the petition reads.
At a hearing on Tuesday, a judge will consider the defense’s request to overturn Schweitzer’s sentence and release him.
Ireland’s relatives could not be immediately reached for comment on the petition.
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, Lawson said, that there was this type of agreement, which is increasingly being used to review questionable convictions and protect against future errors.
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 accused of his role in a cocaine conspiracy had contacted police, claiming his half-brother Frank Pauline Jr witnessed the Irish attack, according to the mandatory fact sheet.
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 interrogated at least seven times, each time giving conflicting testimonies – ultimately incriminating himself, the determination document says.
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 sickbed – but they were charged again after another whistleblower claimed Ian Schweitzer confessed to him in prison that Pauline raped and had 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 probation – after watching juries convict Pauline and his brother in 2000.
In October, Shawn Schweitzer met with prosecutors and recanted. According to the determination 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”.
He “continues to feel immense guilt for agreeing to the confession and pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit and falsely implicating his brother,” the document said.
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 in a New Mexico prison by a fellow inmate in 2015 and Ian Schweitzer is serving his 130-year sentence in an Arizona prison for lack of space for inmates in Hawaii.
“Mr. Schweitzer has spent over two decades wrongly imprisoned based on unreliable whistleblower evidence and accident reconstruction testimonies,” the petition reads. “In the face of this overwhelming new evidence of his innocence, it would be unreasonable for him to remain in detention.”