Released after 20 years, Hawaiian man reflects on case and future

HONOLULU (AP) — On Ian Schweitzer’s first morning of freedom Wednesday, he woke up in a hotel room, gazed out at the ocean from his balcony and beheld the beauty of the island he had been away from for more than 20 years. while he was imprisoned for a time. The 1991 murder and rape has always maintained that he did not commit it.

In an interview with The Associated Press from the Big Island, he reflected on a range of emotions, from his faith in God that kept him positive to his complicated feelings about the police and criminal justice system to a search to help figure out who really Dana killed. Ireland.

“We want justice for Dana,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer said he considers himself a victim of the same crimes for which he was convicted: “I feel like 25 years of my life have been murdered. I feel like I was kidnapped away from my family. I feel like they raped me for being a son.”

A judge ordered his release Tuesday after hours of expert testimony on new evidence showing Schweitzer was not responsible for the death of Ireland, 23, a tourist from Virginia. She was visiting a remote part of the Big Island when she was found by a fishing trail, raped and beaten and barely alive. She later died at a hospital.

The new evidence, thanks to advances in DNA testing, included the finding that a T-shirt discovered nearby and soaked in Ireland’s blood belonged to an unknown man, and not to Schweitzer or the two others convicted of killing her.

Hawaii County Attorney Kelden Waltjen said in a statement this week that his office is committed to identifying the unknown man. He was expected to make an announcement on the case on Thursday.

Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth, who was a prosecutor in 2019 when the Innocence Project and prosecutors agreed to reinvestigate, said Wednesday that “there is still frustration that we don’t know whose DNA it is.”

Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to contact the relatives in Ireland were unsuccessful.

“I think there’s a sister out there, you know, God bless her,” Schweitzer said. “I want you to know that my team will do everything possible to work with … prosecutors to find the unknown DNA.”

Lawyers for the Innocence Project in Hawaii and New York filed a petition Monday night outlining the new evidence and asking for Schweitzer’s release. They are also considering a Hawaii statute that would allow him to collect $50,000 for each year he was behind bars.

Barry Scheck, one of their New York attorneys, said they don’t expect prosecutors to file any more charges and hope Hawaii can learn from this case.

“If three innocent people can be convicted in the largest murder case in state history, then people need to step back and say, how can we prevent this from happening again?” Scheck said.

Lawyers are now resorting to exonerating the other two. They include Schweitzer’s younger brother, Shawn, who took a plea deal after his sister was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to 130 years.

The younger Schweitzer recanted in October, helping bolster the case for his brother’s release.

Keith Shigetomi, the attorney who represented Shawn Schweitzer when he pleaded guilty to nearly a year in prison, said Wednesday that he truly believed at the time that he could convince a jury of his client’s innocence, but Shawn Schweitzer feared that telling the truth means sharing the same fate as his brother.

The family thought so. “Ian told him, do it, save yourself,” Shigetomi said, adding that lawyers are working to withdraw the guilty plea.

The Schweitzers became suspects amid intense pressure to find Ireland’s killer. In 1994, Frank Pauline Jr. came forward and claimed that he was with them when Ian Schweitzer ran over and killed Ireland’s bike.

But he was interviewed at least seven times and each time he gave inconsistent accounts. When it became clear that he would be charged along with the Schweitzers, he tried to recant, saying that he had lied to try to get the drug charges against his half-brother dropped.

Pauline was convicted, along with the brothers, and murdered by a fellow prisoner in a New Mexico prison in 2015.

Myles Breiner, an attorney representing Pauline’s family, said Wednesday that he will file a motion to have him posthumously exonerated.

Ian Schweitzer said it is clear to him that the justice system is flawed.

“It didn’t matter if I was innocent,” he said. “They just needed a conviction.”

Martin Tankleff knows how Schweitzer feels. He was wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents on Long Island, New York, and was released in 2007 after 17 years in prison.

“The best advice I can give you is to take it very easy,” Tankleff said, recalling how he felt overwhelmed by everyday things like the choices in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. “The world will be completely different.”

Schweitzer served his sentence in Arizona due to a lack of prison space in Hawaii. Back on the Big Island, he reflected on how it felt to be home.

“Sitting right here in this beautiful hotel, it looks the same,” he said. “But I know that once I go down the street and everything changes, everything changes.”


AP writer Claire Rush in Portland and researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.