A US judge on Tuesday ordered a man released from prison immediately after his attorneys presented new evidence and argued that he did not commit the crimes he was convicted of and 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 shackles immediately,” Judge Peter Kubota ruled.
That prompted applause in the Hilo courtroom and hugs for Schweitzer, who was flown to the Big Island for the hearing from the Arizona prison where he was serving his sentence.
“My feelings were all over the place,” Schweitzer said during a telephone interview in recalling the moment of his release. “Nerves, anxiety, scared.”
The justice system is “flawed,” he said, calling himself one of many imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
He earlier told reporters that he was “grateful” for the judge doing the “honorable thing.”
A petition filed late on Monday outlined additional evidence in one of Hawaii’s biggest murders, which unfolded on Christmas Eve in 1991 on the Big Island.
Dana Ireland, 23, was found barely alive in the bushes along a fishing trail in Puna, a remote section of the island. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten, and later died at Hilo Medical Center. The mangled bicycle she had been riding was found several kilometers away and appeared to have been run into by a vehicle.
The slaying 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, codirector 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,” he said.
Ireland’s relatives could not immediately be reached for 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 cocounsel in the case, Lawson’s group, represented Schweitzer, the last of three Native Hawaiian men convicted in Ireland’s death who had remained imprisoned.
DNA evidence previously submitted in the case belonged to an unknown man and all three of the convicted men were excluded as sources, the petition said.
New DNA evidence 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 did not leave the tire marks at either location where Ireland and her bicycle were found. A forensic odontologist also concluded an injury on her left breast was not a bitemark, as previously believed, the petition said.
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