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Shawn Schweitzer

Other Hawaii Exonerations
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On the afternoon of December 24, 1991, the police department in Hawaii County, Hawaii, received a call about a mangled bicycle found on a rural road in the eastern corner of the Big Island. A short while later, the police received a second report of a badly injured woman found a few miles away on a fishing trail near the Waa Waa community.

The woman was naked from the waist down. Paramedics struggled to reach her, because of the poor condition of the trail, which was occasionally used by fishermen. She was taken to a hospital in nearby Hilo and died a few hours later, on Christmas Day. Dana Ireland was 23 years old, a recent college graduate from Virginia visiting her sister over the holidays.

At the first location, investigators collected the bicycle, one of Ireland’s shoes, her watch, and a clump of hair. At the fishing trail, they collected more of her clothing, a child’s sneaker and socks, beer bottles, cigarette butts, a pair of men’s underwear, and a T-shirt soaked in what later testing reported as Ireland’s blood. At the hospital, a rape kit was performed, which collected oral, anal, and vaginal swabs; pubic hair combings; the gurney sheet from the ambulance ride; and Ireland’s remaining clothes.

The rape and murder of a young, white tourist set off a media frenzy. A reward fund was established, and residents pressured the police to solve the crime. At one point, a local organization called Citizens for Justice asked the Hawaii Attorney General to appoint an independent prosecutor.

On May 23, 1994, just two months after the call for an independent prosecutor, the police got a break. A man named John Gonsalves told the authorities that his half-brother, Frank Pauline Jr., had been present when Ireland was attacked and could provide information. At the time, Gonsalves was facing a lengthy prison term for his involvement in a cocaine-conspiracy case.

Pauline was just starting a 10-year prison sentence for sexual assault and theft. In his first interview with police, on June 19, 1994, Pauline said he had been present when two brothers, 20-year-old Albert Schweitzer, known as Ian, and 16-year-old Shawn Schweitzer had attacked Ireland. Pauline said he didn’t take part in the rape, but he said he hit Ireland on the head with a tire iron. During this interview, Pauline was unable to give a physical description of Ireland or recall whether she was riding a bike.

Over the next two years, police interviewed Pauline at least seven times. None of these statements were recorded, and his answers were often inconsistent. On July 6, 1996, Pauline said he had been lying all along and that Gonsalves had talked him into cooperating with police to help Gonsalves get his drug charges dropped.

Separately, the police closely investigated the Schweitzers. They executed a search warrant but did not find any evidence linking them to the attack. During a series of interviews, the brothers denied any involvement. They also told police that a longstanding feud existed between their family and Pauline’s.

As part of the investigation, police collected dental impressions from Ian and Shawn. A forensic odontologist initially excluded Ian Schweitzer as a contributor but later, around the time of Schweitzer’s arrest, would state that his teeth “were consistent with the bite” found on Ireland.

Police also seized Ian Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle and searched it for evidence. It had been purple around the time of Ireland’s attack but was now painted yellow. They compared paint scrapings from the car with paint found on the bicycle. They examined hairs found in the car. None of this evidence inculpated Schweitzer.

Pauline was indicted for Ireland’s murder, rape, and kidnapping, on July 30, 1997. Two months later, on October 9, 1997, Ian and Shawn Schweitzer were indicted on the same charges.

After the indictments, officials submitted several pieces of evidence for DNA testing. These items were the rape-kit swabs, the gurney sheet, the men’s underwear, and the T-shirt, made by a company called Jimmy’z, which was popular with surfers. The company that conducted the testing reported on October 7, 1998, that sperm was found on the swabs and the gurney sheet, and that the Schweitzers and Pauline had been excluded as contributors.

On October 20, 1998, the Hawaii County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the indictments against Ian and Shawn Schweitzer. The dismissal contained conditions that voided the six-year statute of limitations for the rape and kidnapping charges. (There was no statute of limitations on the murder charge.)

James Biven, Ian Schweitzer’s attorney, agreed to give the state until June 1, 1999, to refile these charges. Without that agreement, the statute of limitations, which did not include the time Schweitzer spent in jail, would have ended in December 1998.

On May 5, 1999, a man named Michael Ortiz told prosecutors that Ian Schweitzer had confessed to him about his involvement in Ireland’s death. He said the confession came in August 1998, while Ortiz and Schweitzer were both in the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo.

On May 20, 1999, Ian and Shawn Schweitzer were indicted again on charges of murder, rape, and kidnapping.

Pauline went to trial first, in August 1999. Prosecutors placed him at the crime scene based on witnesses who said he wore a Jimmy’z T-shirt like the one found near Ireland’s body. Pauline testified in his own defense and said that he had created the story at the behest of his older brother. At the time of his statements to police, Pauline said, he was in prison and owed other inmates money for drugs, while John was facing his own unrelated charges. He said his brother told him “The worst can happen to you, boy, is they’re going to give you perjury. They’re not going to put you in for murder.”

The jury convicted Pauline of second-degree murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault on October 14, 1999, and he was later sentenced to three sentences of life in prison.

Ian Schweitzer’s trial in Hawaii County Circuit Court began January 24, 2000, with Judge Riki May Amano presiding. Schweitzer’s attorney, James Biven, had moved unsuccessfully for a change of venue.

The state’s case against Schweitzer tracked much of the evidence used against Pauline. There were no witnesses to the crime. The biological evidence collected at the crime scenes and the hospital did not connect Ian Schweitzer to the attack.

Instead, the state presented a series of witnesses who testified that Schweitzer owned a purple Volkswagen Beetle, that he had been seen with Pauline that day, that the car was seen damaged in the hours after Ireland was attacked, and that the injuries to Ireland and the damage to her bicycle had been caused by Schweitzer ramming into her bike and then running her over.

Ida Smith testified about finding Ireland beaten and bleeding. She stopped a motorist and told them to call 911, and then stayed with Ireland until paramedics and police arrived. An officer who interviewed her that night wrote in his report: “Smith went on to say that she asked the victim who was possibly responsible for her injuries and at which time the victim mentioned something to the effect of ‘a friend or a friend of a friend’ and at times the victim told her that she could not remember.” On cross-examination, Smith denied making that statement to police.

Alex Franchey testified that he was drinking with Schweitzer, Pauline, and others near the ocean when Ireland rode by on her bicycle. Some of the people knew Ireland through her sister. Later, Schweitzer drove off in the same direction as Ireland, Franchey testified. Three witnesses testified that the Jimmy’z T-shirt belonged to Pauline.

Gonsalves testified that on December 24, 1991, Pauline got in a fight with his girlfriend and left. He returned a few hours later with the Schweitzer brothers and another man, Gonsalves testified, and he could see damage to the front of the VW.

Under cross-examination, Gonsalves said he had reached out to the police to secure more favorable terms on a drug case. He initially denied that there was bad blood between his family and the Schweitzers, but under cross-examination he admitted that Ian and Shawn’s mother had frequently called the police to complain about the partying at his house.

Schweitzer did own a Volkswagen Beetle, but it wasn’t clear when he began driving the vehicle, which had been swapped between several parties in the fall and winter of 1991. The title wasn’t transferred to Schweitzer until January 29, 1992. It had been painted yellow in March 1992, which prosecutors would later suggest was part of a cover-up.

Dr. Charles Reinhold, who performed the autopsy on Ireland, testified about her extensive injuries, which included bruises and cuts, as well as damage to her internal organs and a broken pelvic bone.

He also testified about injuries to Ireland’s chest. “Particularly on the left-hand side of the breast surrounding the nipple we see curve – a circular pattern of short scratches or abrasions around the top and outside of the nipple,” he said, “and also the bottom and inside of the nipple, which is very characteristic for a bitemark of the breast area.”

Jeffrey Wheeler, a biomechanics consultant, testified as an expert about injuries caused by car accidents. He said Ireland’s bike was shipped to his office in Colorado for examination and that he reviewed her medical records and the police accident reports. Wheeler testified that when Ireland was struck from behind, the bicycle would have been pushed forward and she would have fallen backwards against the front of the vehicle.

Wheeler testified that he found no serious injuries from that collision. The broken pelvis, he testified, indicated a more traumatic encounter, one that took place after Ireland was already thrown from the bike. “It’s not getting hit by,” he said. “It’s not falling onto the ground. Uh, it’s a run over. It’s consistent with those types of forces.”

Kenneth Baker, the director of the accident investigation division at Northwestern University’s Traffic Institute, testified that he examined Ireland’s bicycle as well as the Volkswagen police seized from Schweitzer. Baker testified that the location of the damage to the bicycle was consistent with being hit by a VW Beetle, based on the vehicle’s height and the rounded shape of its bumper. He testified that the force of the initial collision would have pushed Ireland off her bike and to the side. He also testified that the presence of grease and oil on Ireland’s clothes led him to believe that she was run over.

Biven had retained his own accident expert, a retired engineer named James Campbell, and Campbell had prepared a report stating “the injuries suffered by Ms. Ireland and the damage on the bicycle were possibly caused by a rear impact by a small pickup truck made between 1965 and 1975.” But Biven did not introduce this report into evidence, and he did not ask Campbell about this finding when Campbell testified.

Detective Steve Guillermo of the Hawaii County Police Department testified about the investigation. Under cross-examination, he testified that one of the crime scenes was left unsecured overnight, which led to the destruction of evidence including tire marks on the side of the road. He also said that although no one actually saw the accident that knocked Ireland off her bike, several persons told the police that they saw a pickup truck nearby at the time. Separately, Biven led Guillermo through a lengthy list of all the forensic evidence recovered from a search of Schweitzer’s Beetle. There were hair samples, paint samples, and grease samples. None of this evidence tied the vehicle to Ireland being hit by the car or to Ireland being placed in the car.

Ortiz testified that Schweitzer made a confession to him while they were in jail at the Hawaii County Correctional Center. Ortiz was awaiting a trial on theft charges, and he testified that they began chatting about their cases. Over time, Ortiz testified, Schweitzer grew to trust him and told him that he just meant to scare Ireland, “but the Volkswagen slid in the gravel and hit the back of her tire and she flew off the bike. And he said, ah, he got scared, stopped, and Frank got out. And Frank grabbed her, started dragging her to the car by her hair.”

After Pauline got her in the Beetle, Ortiz testified, “She was hitting him, yelling. And Frank was holding her down and, ah, she was kind of like hitting on him for trying to—try to get out. And Frank kept on hitting her and she bit Frank on the arm. That’s when Frank whipped her clothes off and said, ‘You like see how it feels’—Ian seen Frank rip her shirt off and bite her on da breast.”

Under cross-examination, Ortiz testified that he didn’t tell police about his conversation with Schweitzer for nearly a year, until he was in prison in Minnesota. (Many Hawaiian prisoners serve their sentences on the mainland.) He admitted that his prison term was reduced, in part because of his cooperation with authorities. Separately, an investigator for the state testified that he performed several favors for Ortiz, including moving his brother back to Hawaii.

Schweitzer did not testify, but several witnesses testified that there was bad blood between the Schweitzers and Pauline’s family, making it unlikely that the three of them would have been in a car together.

Lisa Calandro, a scientist with Forensic Analytical in Hayward, California, had been jointly hired by the state and Schweitzer’s defense team to analyze the DNA evidence, after there were concerns that the testing might use up all the samples. She testified that she was able to secure enough genetic material for testing from the swabs and the gurney sheet. She testified that the Schweitzer brothers and Pauline were eliminated as contributors to those samples. Calandro did not analyze the men’s briefs or the Jimmy’z T-shirt. The underwear did not contain sufficient genetic material, she said. The shirt posed another problem. “We did not do any testing on the blue shirt, and the reason for that was because the shirt was very heavily bloodstained. And because we're amplifying the DNA from the original starting material, um, the shirt had so much blood on it that the type which would have been amplified would have been the type of the blood donor and not necessarily of the person who wore the shirt.”

Under cross-examination from the prosecutor, Calandro said that a sexual assailant might not leave any DNA if he wore a condom or didn’t ejaculate. She also said that it was possible that a heavy contributor to the genetic sample might mask a light contributor.

Prior to deliberations, the jury viewed Schweitzer’s Beetle.

During closing arguments, Biven told jurors that there was a lack of evidence connecting Schweitzer to the crime. The police had worked backwards, taking the word of criminals that Schweitzer was involved and then finding the evidence to make the case. “That’s what the prosecution has been doing all along. If it doesn’t fit, get rid of it; erase it; sweep it under the rug; mold it to fit. The prosecution did not find the clues in this case on the ground or in the scientific laboratory. They found the evidence in prison and in jail.”

He also said that Gonsalves was the only witness who testified that there was a fourth person in the car. The prosecution needed that fourth person to explain the DNA evidence, Biven said.

Prosecutor Lincoln Ashida said in his closing argument that the DNA evidence didn’t clear Schweitzer. It said only that he wasn’t found to be a contributor to the samples tested by Calandro, and that was secondary; witnesses connected Pauline to the crime scene and to Schweitzer, and forensic experts said Schweitzer’s VW had been used to ram Ireland off the road and then move her to the remote fishing trail.

“As a matter of fact, ladies and gentlemen, in this particular case, it is not even necessary that we prove that this defendant Ian Schweitzer had sex with Dana Ireland,” Ashida said. “It is not important and it is not necessary because the law of accomplice will convict him.”

Ashida also said the state embraced the DNA evidence. “It’s the same DNA technology which places Dana Ireland’s blood on Frank Pauline’s T-shirt; it’s the very same technology. We’re not afraid of it. It is part of our case.”

The jury convicted Schweitzer of all three counts on February 16, 2000. He received a sentence of life in prison for the murder conviction, and two 20-year sentences for kidnapping and sexual assault, to run consecutively.

On April 17, 2000, Shawn Schweitzer pled guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping. He received a sentence of one year in jail, with credit for time served, and was released from custody. The state said that although Shawn Schweitzer did not participate in the attack on Ireland, he failed to protect her from further injury, failed to call for assistance, and participated in the cover-up.

As part of the plea, Schweitzer gave a statement to the police on March 23, 2000. In the statement, he said he was in the back of the Volkswagen when his brother ran over Ireland. According to the statement, Shawn Schweitzer said Pauline sexually assaulted Ireland while Ian Schweitzer stood nearby and Shawn remained in the car. Ashida said in court that Shawn Schweitzer had passed a polygraph test administered by the Attorney General’s Office that indicated the truthfulness of his statement.

Ian Schweitzer appealed his conviction, arguing among other things that Judge Amano erred in allowing jurors to view the Volkswagen. The Hawaii Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on January 29, 2004.

On April 26, 2015, the Hawaii Tribune Herald reported that the Hawaii Innocence Project, through attorney Brook Hart, was representing Ian Schweitzer in his post-conviction motions. Separately, a group known as Judges for Justice called for an official review of the case and said its own investigation seemed to indicate that Ireland was assaulted and killed by a single attacker.

On April 27, 2015, Pauline was killed by a fellow inmate at a prison in New Mexico.

On January 16, 2018, Schweitzer filed a motion for a new trial. The motion said that the Jimmy’z T-shirt had been analyzed in 2007. This more sophisticated DNA testing was able to extract samples from the sweat and the blood on the shirt. Pauline and the Schweitzers were eliminated as contributors to these samples, but the profile was consistent with the samples from the swab and the gurney sheet, which identified a person known as “unknown male #1.” In addition, DNA testing was performed on other items not tested before the trial, and these items also excluded the defendants.

The motion also said that the state had used “junk science” to convict Schweitzer. It said that Baker’s reasoning was flawed when he testified that Schweitzer’s Beetle was the right height to have struck Ireland’s bicycle at 12 inches above the ground. That measurement didn’t factor in passengers, three men who together weighed about 600 pounds. “With this presumed additional weight inside the VW Bug, the front bumper center height would have been approximately 10.6 inches, almost 2 inches lower than what Baker testified was the height of the bumper from the bottom edge of the vehicle that collided with the rear of Dana Ireland’s bicycle,” the report said.

The motion also said Biven had provided inadequate representation. It appeared that he didn’t start actively investigating the case until two months before trial, the motion said. In addition, according to the motion, Biven didn’t properly challenge hearsay evidence and unqualified expert opinions about gouges found in the side of the road near Ireland’s bicycle. These witnesses said the gouges were “acceleration marks,” which prosecutors would later argue indicated Schweitzer’s intent to speed away.

On May 23, 2019, the Hawaii Innocence Project and the Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office entered into a “conviction integrity agreement” to work together to re-investigate the case.

On January 23, 2023, the Hawaii Innocence Project and the Innocence Project in New York filed a motion to vacate Schweitzer’s conviction.

The motion included the DNA evidence from Schweitzer’s 2018 filing, which it said indicated that this was a single-perpetrator crime, invalidating the state’s theory of the attack. Additional evidence also bolstered Schweitzer’s claims of innocence.

First, since the time of Schweitzer’s conviction, there had been a widespread repudiation in the scientific community regarding the use of forensic odontology as a tool to identify bitemarks. Dr. Adam Freeman, a past president of the American Society of Forensic Odontology, said in an affidavit that “the injury Dr. Reinhold testified was a bitemark is not actually a bitemark. Because that threshold inquiry cannot be satisfied in this case, there would be no comparison, under today’s standards, between the injury and any known dentition.”

Separately, the motion said that an expert had examined the tread evidence from the crime scenes. This evidence wasn’t presented to the jury. The expert, Marvin Smith, said the tread width and the distance between the tires did not match a VW Beetle and were more consistent with a truck or a van.

The motion to vacate was accompanied by a joint stipulation of facts from prosecutors and the defense. The stipulation said that Shawn Schweitzer had recanted the confession he gave to prosecutors at the time of his plea. Meeting with prosecutors, Shawn Schweitzer said he pled guilty because he had just seen his brother receive a lengthy prison sentence. He denied any involvement in Ireland’s death. A month later, Shawn Schweitzer took a polygraph test. He again denied any involvement, and the examiner said he did not show any deception.

The stipulation did not include agreement that Ian Schweitzer was innocent, just that there was new evidence that the jury didn’t hear.

On January 24, 2023, Judge Peter Kubota vacated Ian Schweitzer’s conviction and dismissed his charges on a motion from prosecutors.

“The court has reviewed the credibility of the evidence presented to it, which was not available to the trial in the year 2000 by the way of modern DNA testing, and recently produced evidence regarding the tire tracks left at the Waa Waa site where Miss Ireland was found and bitemark evidence and testimony — and polygraphic examination of Mr. Shawn Schweitzer,” Kubota said.

He noted the tire track evidence and the difficult driving conditions along the fishing trail where Ireland was discovered. “The paramedics that were dispatched to try and save the dying Miss Ireland stopped at the bottom … and were hesitant to go into the Beach Road because of the potholes, hills and valleys of the roadway,” said Kubota. “Common sense would say that trained paramedics that were on a mission to save a dying woman would not risk driving into that road, how likely is it [that] three large males with a dying girl is able to drive in with a Volkswagen Bug on that same road?”

Schweitzer said he was grateful. “Thank you for blessing me with my team and family, and thank you to the judge for being an honorable judge and the prosecutor for doing the honorable things and restoring honor in the court system of Hilo,” he said.

Ken Lawson, the co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that people who don’t live in Hawaii have a hard time understanding the impact of this case. “When you have a wrongful conviction of this magnitude and of this nature, there’s more than just one victim. You had Dana Ireland; she was a victim. Her family were victims. And then, when you get it messed up, you create more victims by sending innocent people to prison — affecting their families, affecting their lives, and affecting their children.”

Prosecuting Attorney Kelden Waltjen said in a statement: “Our office remains committed to identifying Unknown Male No. 1 and seeking justice for Dana Ireland and her [family],” Waltjen said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to them during this difficult time.”

On April 5, 2023, Shawn Schweitzer, represented by the California Innocence Project, filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and have his case dismissed. The motion covered the same ground as his brother’s motion.

“Mr. Schweitzer has spent over two decades suffering from a wrongful conviction based on unreliable informant evidence and accident reconstruction testimony,” the motion said. “Today, powerful exculpatory DNA evidence proves that Mr. Schweitzer is innocent.”

On October 23, 2023, Judge Kubota granted Schweitzer’s motion and dismissed his case.

Attorney Keith Shigetomi, who represented Shawn Schweitzer during his plea and also at the motion to withdraw, said Shawn’s confession was a sham, made to resolve his case so the family would not have two sons in prison “Shawn did what those before him did. He lied. He said he was there.” Shigetomi told Honolulu Civil Beat that Shawn actually failed the initial polygraph test. “How do I know that? I was there, but no one cared,” he said. “Shawn got the deal anyway.”

In an interview with KITV after his charges were dismissed, Shawn Schweitzer said: “For me the hardest part was having to put my brother out of my brain, so I wouldn’t think about him, miss him, or be angry at the world for what happened to us. I literally had to put him in a closet in the back of my brain so I wouldn’t have breakdowns every day.”

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 11/1/2023
Last Updated: 11/1/2023
State:Hawaii
County:Hawaii
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:1991
Convicted:2000
Exonerated:2023
Sentence:1 year
Race/Ethnicity:Other
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes