A Hawaiian man who spent more than 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of a white woman has been freed by a court after an advanced trial DNA test proved his innocence.
Albert Ian Schweitzer, 51, was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to 130 years in prison for the rape and murder of Dana Ireland.
The 23-year-old white woman died on Christmas Eve in 1991 on the Big Island following an accident and a sexual assault. The case was one of Hawaiiof the greatest murders and made national headlines.
Mr Schweitzer was one of three people convicted in the case and the only man still behind bars.
But new DNA evidence, according to the petition, shows that a ‘Jimmy Z’ branded T-shirt found near Ireland and soaked in his blood belonged to an unknown person, not one of the three men, as prosecutors said.
Additional evidence also showed that Mr Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle car did not leave tire tracks at either location where Ireland and his bike were found.
That led his attorneys from the Hawaii Innocence Project and attorneys from the New York Innocence Project to file a motion in court Monday asking a judge to overturn his conviction.
A Honolulu court judge on Wednesday overturned the conviction on Tuesday, freeing Mr. Schweitzer after more than two decades in prison.
“The new DNA evidence … proves conclusively that a jury would likely return a different verdict of acquittal,” Judge Peter Kubota told the court, following a day-long hearing on a motion to have Mr. sentence.
It brought cheers in the Hilo courtroom and hugs for Mr. Schweitzer, who was flown to the Big Island for the hearing from the Arizona jail where he was serving his sentence.
The ruling also meant that Dana Ireland’s killer was still at large.
Following the decision, Mr Schweitzer told AP: “My feelings were all over the place. Nervousness, anxiety, fear.
The justice system is “imperfect”, he said, calling himself one of many jailed for crimes they did not commit. Earlier he told reporters he was “grateful” the judge did the “honorable thing”.
The new evidence emerged after Mr. Schweitzer’s attorneys and Hawaii County prosecutors entered into a “conviction integrity agreement” in 2019, the first such agreement in Hawaii, to re-examine evidence in his affair.
Such agreements are increasingly used in the United States to investigate questionable convictions and guard against future mistakes.
Ireland, 23, was cycling on Christmas Eve in Kapoho when she was hit by a vehicle. She was later found in the bushes of a fishing trail along Waa Waa Road, eight kilometers from the crash site. She was naked from the waist down, barely conscious, and died in hospital due to blood loss.
The murder of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia captured national attention and remained unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on police to find the killer.
“Anytime you have a white, female victim…it gets a lot more attention than people of color and Native Hawaiians,” said Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project.
“Parents, naturally, were getting more and more angry. … There was insurmountable pressure to solve this case. And when that happens, mistakes are made. Some intentional and some unintentional.
Additional reports by agencies