One of three men convicted of a woman’s brutal 1991 rape and murder hopes new evidence will prove he is innocent.
Albert “Ian” Schweitzer is the last of three men still behind bars for the murder of 23-year-old Virginia woman Dana Ireland, Kenneth Lawson, co-director for the Hawaii Innocence Project, told Oxygen.com. Lawson sent a copy of a 24-page petition filed Monday with Hawaii’s Third District Circuit Court, outlining the defendant’s alleged exclusion as a perpetrator of the crime.
“Injustice is at the core of this case — historically, one of the most high-profile cases Hawaii has ever seen,” Lawson told Oxygen.com. “The growing public pressure to hold someone accountable for this horrific crime — combined with the incessant media attention — outweighed the tainted false testimony used to wrongly convict Ian.”
Much of the case for the conviction being overturned is outlined in a 22-page document containing the “joint stipulated facts” found during a 2019 “conviction integrity agreement” between Schweitzer's post-conviction attorneys and Hawaii County prosecutors to reexamine the case, as reviewed by Oxygen.com. Lawson said it was the first of its kind in Hawaii.
On Christmas Eve 1991 at around 5:00 p.m., Hawaii County Police responded to reports of a “mangled bicycle” at the intersection of Kapoho Kai Drive and Illilani Road on the Big Island. Ireland had ridden her bicycle to a friend’s house to invite him for dinner before attempting to return to her family’s holiday rental at Kapoho Vacationland, as detailed by the Hawaii Innocence Project.
Several items indicated a violent hit-and-run — including “clumps of blond hair” — though there was no sign of a victim.
About half an hour later, with authorities still at the presumed crash site, Dana Ireland was found battered and clinging to life on a fishing trail at the Wa’a Wa’a subdivision some five miles away from the apparent crash site. She was naked from the waist down.
Ireland was transported to an area hospital but died from severe blood loss minutes into Christmas Day.
At the fishing trail, investigators collected multiple items of evidence, including beer bottles, cigarette butts and a “men’s Jimmy’Z brand T-shirt soaked in what was later confirmed to be Ms. Ireland’s blood,” according to the joint findings. Semen present on the victim’s body proved she was sexually assaulted.
Despite numerous appeals to the public for information, the case remained unsolved for more than three years.
“The parents, understandably, were becoming more and more infuriated… there was insurmountable pressure to solve this case,” Lawson told the Associated Press. “And when that happens, mistakes are made. Some intentional and some unintentional.”
In 1994, authorities said they had a “big breakthrough” when a man named John Gonsalves came forward with claims that his half-brother, Frank Pauline, was present for Ireland’s murder.
According to the Hawaii Innocence Project, Gonsalves and Pauline “began to opportunistically barter falsified testimonies in exchange for personal benefits in ongoing, unrelated criminal charges they were facing."
At the time, Gonsalves was facing decades in prison for what local outlets called “the largest case of conspiracy to import cocaine ever uncovered on the Big Island,” per the petition. Meanwhile, Pauline had just started a 10-year prison sentence for an unrelated sexual assault and theft.
Over the course of at least seven police interviews over the course of two years — later said to contain “inconsistent statements” — Pauline implicated himself, Albert “Ian” Schweitzer and the latter's brother, Shawn Schweitzer, for Ireland’s murder.
Photo: Hawai'i Innocence Project
Post-conviction attorneys said, “John [Gonsalves] made a deal with police to persuade Frank [Pauline] to talk to them regarding the Dana Ireland case in exchange for dropping the drug charges.”
Pauline was also granted privileges behind bars, including phone calls to his girlfriend and preferred prison housing, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.
The Schweitzer brothers denied their involvement in the murder, and claimed the allegations against them were a result of a feud with half-brothers Gonsalves and Pauline.
The Schweitzers were indicted in 1997, but the charges against them were dismissed without prejudice about one year later when the FBI released a report stating that DNA excluded the men from the crime scene. However, the brothers were charged again in 1999 despite the new report, based on a jailhouse informant who claimed Ian allegedly confessed to the crime, according to the California Innocence Project (formerly the California and Hawaii Innocence Project) on behalf of Shawn Schweitzer.
Shawn Schweitzer pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping and rape charges and was sentenced to one year with time already served and five years probation, while Ian Schweitzer and Frank Pauline were sentenced to life.
Pauline and Shawn Schweitzer both later recanted their statements, while Ian always maintained his innocence.
Recent tests prove that the crime scene DNA that didn't match either Pauline or the Schweitzers did match DNA extracted from Ireland’s rape kit, as well as the “hospital gurney sheet, underwear [and] pubic combings,” which “further solidified the innocence of all three men,” Lawson told Oxygen.com.
Investigators also took a fresh look at the T-shirt found at the crime scene.
“A key piece of evidence at both Ian and Mr. Pauline’s trials was a Jimmy’Z T-shirt found near the victim’s body, which was soaked in her blood,” Lawson told Oxygen.com. “At both trials, the prosecution presented witnesses who claimed the shirt belonged to Mr. Pauline, even though he strenuously denied this and argued the shirt did not fit.”
Recent tests on the shirt’s armpit stains matched the unknown male suspect whose DNA was found at the crime scene and in the rape kit, according to Lawson.
The unknown suspect’s DNA was recently submitted to federal databases, though no matches have yet been found.
“At a new trial today, a jury would not convict Mr. Schweitzer of Ms. Ireland’s sexual assault and murder,” as stated in Monday’s petition. “In fact, a prosecutor would likely not even arrest Mr. Schweitzer for this crime.”
Ian Schweitzer’s attorneys also claim there was no evidence found at the crash site linking to his Volkswagen Beetle, as previously believed. Schweitzer didn’t own the vehicle when Ireland was killed.
A judge will ultimately decide if he or she will overturn Ian Schweitzer’s conviction.
On Tuesday, the County of Hawaii Office of the Prosecuting Attorney released a statement, as cited by NBC Honolulu affiliate KHNL.
“No matter the outcome of these post-conviction proceedings, we remain committed to identifying ‘unknown male #1’ and seeking justice for Dana Ireland and her Ohana,” according to prosecutors. (Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family.)
Pauline was reportedly beaten to death with a rock in 2015 while serving his sentence in a New Mexico prison.
The California Innocence Project claims Shawn Schweitzer “continues to be associated with Dana’s death.”