HONOLULU (AP) — A judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a man from jail immediately after his lawyers presented new evidence and argued that he did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted and that he had spent more than 20 years locked up for: 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, should be “released from his chains immediately,” Judge Peter Kubota has said.
It brought cheers in the Hilo courtroom and hugs for Schweitzer, who was flown to the Big Island for the hearing from the Arizona jail where he was serving his sentence.
“My feelings were all over the place,” Schweitzer told the AP in a phone interview recalling the time of his release. “The nerves, the anxiety, the fear.”
The justice system is “imperfect”, he said, calling himself one of many jailed for crimes they did not commit. Earlier he told reporters he was “grateful” the judge did the “honorable thing”.
A petition filed late Monday presented additional evidence in one of Hawaii’s biggest murders, which took place 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 part of the island. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten, and later died at Hilo Medical Center. The mutilated bicycle she was riding was found several miles away and appears to have been hit by a vehicle.
The murder of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia captured national attention and remained unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on police to find the killer.
“Any time you have a white, female victim…it gets a lot more attention than people of color and Native Hawaiians,” said Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project. “Parents, naturally, 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.
Irish relatives could not immediately be reached to comment on the petition and Schweitzer’s release. Prosecutors did not immediately comment on Schweitzer’s release.
With help from 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 who remained imprisoned.
DNA evidence previously submitted in the case belonged to an unknown person and the three convicted men were excluded as sources.
New DNA evidence, according to the petition, shows that a ‘Jimmy Z’ branded t-shirt found near Ireland and soaked in his blood belonged to the same stranger, not one of the three men, as the prosecutors said.
Additionally, a new tire tread analysis concluded that Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle left no tire tracks at either location where Ireland and his bike were found. A forensic odontologist also concluded that a wound on her left breast was not a bite wound, as previously believed, according to the petition.
“At a retrial 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 the three men participated in a sexual assault and left no trace of biological evidence — including a lack of evidence uncovered through advanced forensic testing — is “extraordinarily unlikely,” the petition says.
In 2019, Schweitzer’s attorneys and Hawaii County prosecutors entered into a “sentencing integrity agreement” to reconsider the case. It was the first time in Hawaii that there was this type of agreement, Lawson said, which is increasingly being used to review questionable convictions and guard against future mistakes.
“Over the past three years, we have shared information and reviewed forensic evidence. Regardless of the outcome of these post-conviction proceedings, we remain committed to identifying Unknown Man No. 1 and seeking justice for Dana Ireland and his “ohana,” Hawaii County District Attorney Kelden Waltjen said. in a statement before the decision, using the Hawaiian word. for “family”.
However, Assistant District Attorney Shannon Kagawa asked the judge to deny the motion, 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 Irish case is detailed in a document filed with the motion listing the facts that defense lawyers and prosecutors have stipulated.
In 1994, the police made what they believed to be a major breakthrough. A man facing charges for his role in a cocaine conspiracy has contacted police and claims his half-brother, Frank Pauline Jr., witnessed the Ireland attack, according to the facts document stipulated.
Police questioned Pauline, who was in the third month of a 10-year sentence for an unrelated sexual assault and robbery. He claimed brothers Ian and Shawn Schweitzer attacked and killed Ireland. But he was interrogated at least seven times and gave inconsistent accounts each time, ultimately incriminating himself, the stipulation document says.
Despite the lack of evidence linking them to the murder, both Schweitzer and Pauline were charged in 1997.
At one point the charges were dismissed because the three men were ruled out as a source of semen found in Ireland and on a hospital stretcher 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 provided police with details of Ireland’s murder in order to have drug charges against his half-brother dropped.
In a prison interview with the A&E show “American Justice,” Pauline compared her story to the story of the boy who cried wolf. “It wasn’t me,” he says in a thick 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 around a year’s credit and five years probation – after watching juries 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 didn’t want to risk losing another son and encouraged Shawn Schweitzer to do what he had to do to come home and not suffer the same fate as his brother”.
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 states.
A polygraph test in November showed he was telling the truth when he denied involvement in the murder, the document said.
Pauline was killed in a New Mexico prison by a fellow inmate in 2015.
Being back in Hawaii “tastes good,” Schweitzer told the AP.
“The air is good,” he said. “The water is good.”
. man from Hawaii imprisoned for murder rape freed