Judge Peter Kubota cited new DNA evidence in clearing Ian and Shawn Schweitzer of the shocking 1991 murder.

A Hilo Circuit Court judge on Monday reversed the convictions of a man who pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and killing of a woman visiting the Big Island in 1991, saying that new DNA evidence “clearly exonerate” the man and his brother.

Shawn Schweitzer, 48, gave police a detailed confession 23 years ago in the murder of Dana Ireland on Christmas Eve in 1991, but Schweitzer’s lawyer said Monday it was a false confession that Schweitzer used to secure a lenient plea deal.

Judge Peter Kubota in January cleared Shawn’s older brother Albert Ian Schweitzer in the same case after Ian spent 26 years in prison for the murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of Ireland. On Monday Kubota cited new DNA evidence in the case as a key reason for clearing Shawn Schweitzer as well.

Shawn Schweitzer
Shawn Schweitzer hugs a well-wisher after Hilo Circuit Court Judge Peter Kubota vacated Schweitzer’s convictions for manslaughter and kidnapping of Dana Ireland. Schweitzer was joined in court by his brother Albert Ian Schweitzer, far left, and his parents Jerry and Linda Schweitzer. (Kevin Dayton/Civil Beat/2023)

The killing caused an uproar on the Big Island after Ireland, 23, was struck by a car as she rode a bicycle on an isolated road in Lower Puna, and was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and beaten. She was left in an isolated area called Waawaa and died shortly after midnight on Christmas morning.

Attorney Keith Shigetomi told Kubota on Monday that Ireland’s murder more than 32 years ago “shocked the entire state,” but went unsolved for years. The police and the community were desperate to solve the case, he said.

Then a Puna man named Frank Pauline saw an opportunity “to personally profit” from the case, Shigetomi said. Pauline was in jail at the time, and he fabricated lies about the Ireland case in an attempt to get favorable treatment for himself and his brother, Shigetomi said.

“He made up a false narrative that Albert Ian Schweitzer and Shawn Schweitzer killed Dana Ireland, and to this day we still have no idea why he blamed Ian and Shawn,” Shigetomi said. Police then focused their investigation on the Schweitzer brothers, who were indicted.

The defense presented evidence at trial that the DNA of Ireland’s attacker did not belong to either of the Schweitzer brothers, or to Pauline. But Pauline was convicted anyway of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault on Aug. 27, 1999, and Ian Schweitzer was then convicted of the same charges on Feb. 15, 2000.

“In almost every other case, if the DNA did not match, you got out of jail,” Shigetomi said. “In this case the DNA did not match, you still went to jail.”

“It didn’t matter,” Shigetomi said. “The tsunami was coming, it swept up everything in its path.”

Shawn Schweitzer
Shawn Schweitzer, center, in court Monday with his lawyer Keith Shigetomi and Alissa Bjerkhoel, interim director of the California Innocence Project. Shigetomi said Schweitzer lied when he confessed to police that he witnessed the attack on Dana Ireland. (Kevin Dayton/Civil Beat 2023)

Ian told his brother to make a deal to save himself, Shigetomi said. “The family could not lose two sons. So, Shawn did what those before him did. He lied. He said he was there.”

According to a 2003 book about the Ireland case called “Murder in Paradise: A Christmas In Hawaii Turns To Tragedy,” Deputy County Prosecutor Lincoln Ashida played a recording of Schweitzer’s detailed confession to police for reporters. The book was written by longtime Hawaii news reporter Chris Loos and University of Hawaii Hilo political science professor Rick Castberg.

In that confession, Shawn Schweitzer described riding in the back seat of a Volkswagen with his brother and Frank Pauline, and said Pauline told Ian to strike the woman on her bike. Schweitzer then described how Pauline picked up the bleeding, injured woman, and put her in the front passenger seat.

Shawn Schweitzer described how the three took Ireland to an isolated area on what is known as Beach Road, and said Pauline pulled Ireland from the car and “started doing sick stuff to her,” according to the account in the book. The three then left Ireland there, Shawn Schweitzer told police.

Shawn Schweitzer was required to pass a lie detector test as a condition of the plea deal, and according to “Murder in Paradise” Ashida issued a press release announcing Schweitzer indeed had passed a polygraph test administered by the state Attorney General’s Office.

But Shigetomi said Monday that Shawn Schweitzer failed the polygraph test. “How do I know that? I was there, but no one cared,” Shigetomi said. “Shawn got the deal anyway.”

“Shawn was told, if you keep saying you’re not guilty, then you stay in jail, and you may stay in jail for the rest of you’re life,” Shigetomi said. “If you say you’re guilty, you get out of jail, you go home to your family, including your two babies. What would anyone else in this courtroom have done?”

Shawn Schweitzer pleaded guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping on April 17, 2000, as a condition of his plea agreement, and was sentenced to five years probation.

On Monday, Deputy Prosecutor Shannon Kagawa agreed to allow Shawn Schweitzer to withdraw his guilty plea and have his conviction thrown out.

Kubota said evidence presented on Jan. 24 in a hearing that resulted in overturning Ian Schweitzer’s convictions was “significant, credible and reliable.”

Shawn and Albert Ian Schweitzer
Shawn Schweitzer, left, and Albert Ian Schweitzer after Judge Peter Kubota vacated Shawn’s convictions in the Ireland case. The judge cited new DNA evidence in the case. (Kevin Dayton/Civil Beat/2023)

In particular, Kubota cited new DNA evidence that demonstrated neither the Schweitzers nor Pauline wore a bloody T-shirt that was found at the scene. Some witnesses had testified Pauline wore that shirt the day of the murder, but new tests showed the DNA on the shirt belonged another, unidentified male, Kubota said.

That DNA of that unknown male also matched samples found on Ireland’s body, Kubota said. “The DNA technology has caught up in this case to clearly exonerate the three boys from the commission of the crime,” Kubota said of the Schweitzers and Pauline.

At the time the Schweitzers were facing trial, the Ireland case was the most significant murder case in Hawaii since the racially charged 1932 Massie murder case, Kubota said. “It’s easy for many people to be caught up in the hysteria of the time and the need to convict someone, anybody,” he said.

Shawn Schweitzer said after the hearing Monday that “it’s been a long fight, a lot of struggles and ups and downs, and we finally got our day in court, and it’s awesome.”

“I didn’t expect to walk out of here without having any charges on me. It’s a very different feeling,” he said. He praised the work of Shigetomi and the California Innocence Project, which led the effort to reverse the convictions of both Schweitzers.

When asked how the court could have accepted his guilty plea even after Shigetomi said Shawn had failed his polygraph test, Shawn said he doesn’t know.

“How do you get convicted with the DNA evidence on your side?” Shawn Schweitzer replied. “Somebody pushed this whole case through.”

“At that point in my life, all I was worried about was getting home to my wife and my children. That’s all that mattered to me. I knew I had to be home to support them and protect them,” he said.

Ashida, who prosecuted the Schweitzers, said Monday that “we stand by every fact that is already in the record, that has not been altered or changed for the past 23 years.” He declined further comment, saying it is possible the cases could be retried.

While it is still unknown who killed Dana Ireland more than 32 years ago, “we know it wasn’t Ian or Shawn Schweitzer,” Shigetomi said. “What happened to Dana Ireland was a tragedy, but what happened to Shawn Schweitzer was also a tragedy.”

Pauline was killed by another inmate in a New Mexico prison in 2015.

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