Freed after 20 years, Hawaii man reflects on case, future

Jan 25, 2023, 2:47 AM | Updated: 7:50 pm
Albert "Ian" Schweitzer, left, hugs his mother, Linda, moments after a judge ordered him released f...

Albert "Ian" Schweitzer, left, hugs his mother, Linda, moments after a judge ordered him released from prison, in Hilo, Hawaii, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The judge's ruling came immediately after Schweitzer's attorneys presented new evidence and argued that Schweitzer didn’t 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. (Marco Garcia/The Innocence Project via AP Images)

(Marco Garcia/The Innocence Project via AP Images)

HONOLULU (AP) — On Ian Schweitzer’s first morning of freedom Wednesday, he woke up in a hotel room, looked over the balcony at the ocean and took in the beauty of the island he had been away from for over 20 years while imprisoned for a 1991 killing and rape he has always maintained he didn’t commit.

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 police and the criminal justice system to a quest to help solve who really killed Dana Ireland.

“We want justice for Dana,” Schweitzer said.

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

A judge ordered his release Tuesday after hours of expert testimony on new evidence showing Schweitzer wasn’t 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 along a fishing trail, raped and beaten and barely alive. She died later at a hospital.

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

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

Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to reach Ireland’s relatives were unsuccessful.

“I think there’s a sister out there, you know, God bless her,” Schweitzer said. “I want her to know that my team is going to do everything that they possibly can to work with … prosecutors in finding the unknown DNA.”

Innocence Project attorneys in Hawaii and New York filed a petition late Monday outlining the new evidence and seeking Schweitzer’s release. They are also studying a Hawaii statute that would let him collect $50,000 for every year he was behind bars.

Barry Scheck, one of his New York attorneys, said they don’t expect prosecutors to pursue further charges and he hopes Hawaii can learn from this case.

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

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

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

Keith Shigetomi, the lawyer who represented Shawn Schweitzer when he pleaded guilty in exchange for credit for about year in jail, said Wednesday that he truly believed back then that he could convince a jury of his client’s innocence, but Shawn Schweitzer feared telling the truth would mean sharing the same fate as his brother.

The family thought about it. “Ian told him, do it, save yourself,” Shigetomi said, adding that lawyers are working on withdrawing the plea.

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

But he was interviewed at least seven times and gave inconsistent accounts each time. When it was clear he would be indicted along with the Schweitzers, he tried to take it all back and said he had lied to try to get drug charges dropped against his half-brother.

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

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

Ian Schweitzer said it’s clear to him 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 wrongly convicted of murdering his parents on Long Island, New York, and was released in 2007 after 17 years in prison.

“The best piece of advice I can give him is take it extremely slow,” Tankleff said, recalling how he was overwhelmed by everyday things like the options in the cereal aisle of the grocery store. “The world will be completely different.”

Schweitzer served his time in Arizona because of a lack of prison space in Hawaii. Back on the Big Island, he reflected on what it felt like to be home.

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

___

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

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

This undated photo provided by the Grants Pass Police Department shows Benjamin Obadiah Foster. Fos...
Rio Yamat and Andrew Selsky, Associated Press

Oregon kidnap suspect previously released the day he arrived at prison

A man at the center of an intense police search in Oregon after a violent kidnapping last week was released from custody in October 2021 by Nevada prison officials on the same day he was transferred to the state's custody to serve a kidnapping sentence, authorities said Monday.
9 hours ago
FILE - Military personnel watch as Air Force One, with President Donald Trump, aboard prepares to d...
Associated Press

Boeing bids farewell to an icon, delivers last 747 jumbo jet

Boeing bids farewell to an icon on Tuesday: It's delivering its final 747 jumbo jet.
9 hours ago
seattle police...
Associated Press

Name of Seattle officer in crash that killed woman released

Police have released the name of a Seattle police officer who was responding to a medical call when his patrol SUV hit and killed a 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula last week in a city crosswalk.
9 hours ago
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, left, poses with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at...
Associated Press

Lukashenko: Belarus willing to offer more help to Russia

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday that his country is willing to offer more assistance to close ally Russia in its war against Ukraine. But Lukashenko stressed that Russia does not need “any help” right now. “However, if our Russian brothers need help, we are always ready to offer such assistance,” […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

UN expert: Deaths of Bangladeshi migrants should be probed

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — The countries where Bangladeshi migrant workers are employed, including former World Cup host Qatar, should thoroughly investigate all cases of deaths and human rights violations, a United Nations expert said Tuesday. Asked about the reported deaths of at least 450 Bangladeshi workers involved in construction projects in Qatar including stadiums used […]
1 day ago
FILE - A flare burns off methane and other hydrocarbons as oil pumpjacks operate in the Permian Bas...
Associated Press

Difficulty measuring methane slows plan to slash emissions

NEW YORK (AP) — The doors of a metal box slide open, and a drone rises over a gas well in Pennsylvania. Its mission: To find leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, so that energy companies can plug the leaks and reduce the emissions that pollute the air. The drone is among an array […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Freed after 20 years, Hawaii man reflects on case, future