comscore Prisoner in Dana Ireland murder might get freedom
Hawaii News

Prisoner in Dana Ireland murder might get freedom

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now
  • COURTESY PHOTO
                                Dana Ireland

    COURTESY PHOTO

    Dana Ireland

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2000
                                Albert “Ian” Schweitzer

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2000

    Albert “Ian” Schweitzer

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Hawaii Innocence Project Co-director Kenneth Lawson, left, and law student Skye Jansen went over files and photos related to the 1991 murder of Dana Ireland on Tuesday in Honolulu. A petition filed Monday asks a judge to release Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, who has spent more than 20 years in prison in the case.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Hawaii Innocence Project Co-director Kenneth Lawson, left, and law student Skye Jansen went over files and photos related to the 1991 murder of Dana Ireland on Tuesday in Honolulu. A petition filed Monday asks a judge to release Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, who has spent more than 20 years in prison in the case.

Attorneys for a Native Hawaiian man who has been imprisoned for more than 20 years for the 1991 sexual assault, kidnapping and murder of a white woman visiting Hawaii will ask a judge today to dismiss his conviction due to new evidence — including DNA testing — in the case.

A petition filed late Monday outlines additional evidence in one of Hawaii’s biggest murders, which unfolded on Christmas Eve in 1991 on Hawaii island.

Dana Ireland, 23, was found barely alive in the bushes along a fishing trail in Puna. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten and later died at Hilo Medical Center. The mangled bicycle she had been riding was found several miles away and appeared to have been run into by a vehicle.

The murder of the blond-haired, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia gained national attention and remained unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on police to find the killer.

“Whenever 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. “The parents, understandably, were becoming more and more infuriated. … There was insurmountable pressure to solve this case. And when that happens, mistakes are made, some intentional and some unintentional.”

With help from the Innocence Project in New York, the co-counsel in the case, Lawson’s group is representing Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, the last of three Native Hawaiian men convicted in Ireland’s death to remain imprisoned.

DNA evidence previously submitted in the case belonged to an unknown man, and all three of the convicted men were excluded as sources.

New DNA evidence, according to the petition, shows a “Jimmy Z” brand T-shirt found near Ireland and soaked with her blood belonged to the same unknown man and not to one of the three men, as prosecutors claimed.

Additionally, a new tire tread analysis concluded that Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle car didn’t leave the tire marks at either location where Ireland and her bicycle were found. A forensic odontologist also concluded that an injury on her left breast wasn’t a bite mark, as previously believed, the petition said.

“At a new trial today, a jury would not convict Mr. Schweitzer of Ms. Ireland’s sexual assault and murder,” the petition said. “In fact, a prosecutor would likely not even arrest Mr. Schweitzer for this crime.”

The likelihood that all three men participated in a sexual attack and left no trace of biological evidence — including a lack of evidence uncovered with advanced forensic testing — is “extraordinarily improbable,” the petition said.

At the evidentiary hearing, a judge will consider the defense’s request to vacate Schweitzer’s sentence and release him.

Ireland’s relatives couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the petition.

In 2019, Schweitzer’s attorneys and Hawaii County prosecutors entered into a “conviction integrity agreement” to reinvestigate the case. It was the first time in Hawaii there has been this type of agreement, Lawson said, which is increasingly being used to reexamine questionable convictions and guard against future errors.

Much of the background on the Ireland case is detailed in a document filed with the petition listing facts that defense attorneys and prosecutors have stipulated.

In 1994, police made what they believed to be a major breakthrough. A man facing charges for his role in a cocaine conspiracy contacted police and claimed his half brother, Frank Pauline Jr., witnessed Ireland’s attack, according to the stipulated­facts document.

Police interviewed Pauline, who was in his third month of a 10-year sentence for an unrelated sex assault and theft. He claimed 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 said.

Despite the lack of evidence linking them to the killing, the two Schweitzers and Pauline were indicted in 1997.

At one point the charges were dismissed because all three men were excluded as the source of semen found in Ireland and on a hospital gurney sheet. They were indicted again after another informant claimed Ian Schweitzer confessed to him in jail that Pauline raped and killed Ireland.

Pauline later said he offered details to police about the Ireland murder in order to get drug charges dropped against his half brother.

In a prison interview with the A&E show “American Justice,” Pauline compared his story to the tale of the boy who cried wolf. “Wasn’t me,” he said in a strong pidgin accent. But when he started telling the truth, he said, no one believed him.

Shawn Schweitzer took a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping — and receive credit for about a year served and five years of probation — after seeing juries convict Pauline and his brother in 2000.

In October, Schweitzer met with prosecutors and recanted. According to the stipulation document, he pleaded guilty because his “parents did not want to risk losing another son and encouraged Shawn Schweitzer to do what he needed to do to come home and not suffer the same fate as his brother.”

Schweitzer “continues to feel immense guilt about agreeing to the confession and entering a guilty plea for a crime he did not commit and falsely implicating his brother,” the document said.

A polygraph 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. Ian Schweitzer is serving his 130-year sentence in an Arizona prison because of a lack of space for inmates in Hawaii.

“Mr. Schweitzer has spent over two decades wrongfully incarcerated based on unreliable informant evidence and accident reconstruction testimony,” the petition said. “It would be unconscionable for him to continue to remain incarcerated, given this overwhelming new evidence of innocence.”

Comments (46)

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.

Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up