Honolulu — – A judge on Tuesday ordered a man released from prison immediately after his lawyers presented new evidence and argued that he did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted and spent more than 20 years in prison: a 1991 murder, kidnapping and sexual activity. assault on a woman visiting Hawaii.
Albert “Jan” Schweitzer, who was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to 130 years in prison, must be “released immediately,” Judge Peter Kubota ruled.
It drew tears, applause and hugs in Hill’s courtroom for Schweitzer, who was flown to the Big Island for the hearing from an Arizona prison where he was serving time.
Honolulu CBS affiliate KGMB-TV reports that at a press conference, standing next to his mother and other family members, an emotional Schweitzer thanked his lawyers and the judge. “I’m just grateful, very grateful,” he said.
Schweitzer told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, recalling the moment of his release, that his “feelings were all over the place … Nerves, anxiety, fear.”
The justice system has “flaws,” he said, describing himself as one of many incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
Ain one of the largest killings in Hawaii, which occurred on Christmas Eve 1991 on the Big Island.
Dana Ireland, 23, was found barely alive in bushes along a fishing trail in Pune, a remote part of the island. She was sexually assaulted and beaten and later died at Hill Medical Center. The mangled bicycle she was riding was found a few miles away and appeared to have been hit by a car.
The murder of the blond-haired, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia attracted national attention and remained unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on the 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, became more and more furious… There was an overwhelming pressure to solve this case. And when that happens, mistakes are made. Some are intentional and some are unintentional.”
Ireland’s relatives could not immediately be reached for comment on the petition and Schweitzer’s release. Prosecutors have not commented on Schweitzer’s release.
With the help of the Innocence Project in New York, a co-counsel in the case, Lawson’s team represented Schweitzer, the last of three Native Hawaiians convicted in Ireland’s death to remain in prison.
DNA evidence presented earlier in the case belonged to an unknown person, and all three convicts were ruled out as sources.
New DNA evidence, according to the motion, shows that a “Jimmy Z” T-shirt found near Ireland and covered in her blood belonged to the same unknown person, not one of the three men, as prosecutors claimed.
Additionally, new tire tread analysis concluded that Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle left no tire marks at any of the locations where Ireland and her bicycle were found. A forensic odontologist also concluded that the injury to her left breast was not a bite mark as previously believed, the petition states.
“In a new trial today, a jury found Mr. Schweitzer not guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering Ms. Ireland,” the petition reads. “In fact, the prosecutor likely would not have even arrested Mr. Schweitzer for this crime.”
The likelihood that all three men engaged in a sexual assault and left no trace of biological evidence — including the absence of evidence revealed by advanced forensics — is “extremely unlikely,” the petition said.
In 2019, Schweitzer’s attorneys and the Hawaii County District Attorney’s Office entered into a “sustained plea agreement” to reinvestigate the case. According to Lawson, the agreement, which is increasingly being used to review questionable convictions and protect against future wrongdoing, was the first in Hawaii.
“For the past three years, we have been sharing information and reviewing forensic evidence. Regardless of the outcome of the post-conviction proceedings, we remain committed to identifying Unknown Man #1 and seeking justice for Dana Ireland and her ‘ohana,’ Hawaii County District Attorney Kelden Waltgen said in a pre-sentence statement, using the Hawaiian word for ‘family’ i”.
However, Deputy Prosecutor Shannon Kagawa asked the judge to deny the motion, saying the new evidence would not change the outcome of the new trial.
Kubota disagreed, saying a jury would acquit Schweitzer based on the new evidence.
Much of the history of the case in Ireland is laid out in a document filed with the motion, which lists the facts alleged by lawyers and prosecutors.
In 1994, the police made, in her opinion, a big breakthrough. A man facing cocaine conspiracy charges went to police and said his half-brother, Frank Palin Jr., witnessed the attack in Ireland, according to a statement of facts.
Police interviewed Polina, who was in the third month of a 10-year sentence for unrelated sexual assault and theft. He claimed that brothers Ian and Sean Schweitzer attacked Ireland and killed her. But he was interviewed at least seven times and gave inconsistent accounts each time, ultimately incriminating himself, the document said.
Despite the lack of evidence that they were involved in the murder, the two Schweizers and Pauline were charged in 1997.
The charges were eventually dropped because all three men were ruled out as the source of the sperm found in Ireland and on the hospital gurney. They were re-indicted after another informant claimed that Ian Schweitzer had confessed to him in prison that Pauline had raped and killed Ireland.
Palin later said he had offered police details about the murder in Ireland to get drug charges against his half-brother dropped.
In a jailhouse interview with A&E’s “American Justice,” Palin compared his story to the tale of the boy who cried wolf. “It wasn’t me,” he said in a thick Hawaiian accent. But when he began to tell the truth, he said that no one believed him.
Shawn Schweitzer took a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping — and get credit for about a year served and five years of probation — after a jury convicted Palin and his brother in 2000.
In October, Sean Schweitzer met with prosecutors and recanted his plea. He pleaded guilty because his “parents didn’t want to risk losing another son and encouraged Shawn Schweitzer to do what he needed to do to get home and avoid the same fate as his brother,” according to the plea agreement.
Shawn Schweitzer “continues to feel tremendous guilt for agreeing to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit and falsely accusing his brother,” the document said.
A polygraph test in November showed he was telling the truth when he denied involvement in the murder, the document said.
Pauline was murdered in a prison in New Mexico by her cellmate in 2015.
It “feels great” to be back in Hawaii, Schweitzer told the AP.
“The air is good,” he said. – The water is good.