HONOLULU (AP) — On Ian Schweitzer’s first morning of freedom on Wednesday, he woke up in a hotel room, looked over the balcony onto the ocean, and took in the beauty of the island he was on. had been absent for more than 20 years while imprisoned for a 1991 murder and rape which he has always maintained he did not commit.

In an interview with The Big Island’s Associated Press, he reflected on a range of emotions, from his faith in God that kept him positive to his complicated feelings about the 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 saw himself as a victim of the same crimes for which he was convicted: “I feel like they murdered 25 years of my life. I feel like they m kidnapped away from my family. I feel like they raped me for being a son.

A judge ordered his release on Tuesday after hours of expert testimony on new evidence showing that Schweitzer was not 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 later died in a hospital.

The new evidence, thanks to advances in DNA testing, included the discovery that a T-shirt discovered nearby and soaked in Ireland’s blood belonged to an unknown person, not Schweitzer or the other two people convicted of the to have killed.

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

Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth, who was a prosecutor in 2019 when the Innocence Project and prosecutors agreed to reinvestigate, said Wednesday that “there’s still frustration, we don’t know who this DNA belongs to.” .

Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to contact Ireland’s relatives have failed.

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

Innocence Project attorneys in Hawaii and New York filed a motion Monday night outlining the new evidence and asking for Schweitzer’s release. They are also studying a Hawaiian law that would allow him to collect $50,000 for each year spent behind bars.

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

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

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

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

Keith Shigetomi, the lawyer who represented Shawn Schweitzer when he pleaded guilty in exchange for a credit of around a year in prison, said Wednesday he really believed at the time that he could convince a jury of his client’s innocence, but Shawn Schweitzer was afraid to tell the truth. means sharing the same fate as his brother.

The family thought about it. “Ian told him, do it, run away,” Shigetomi said, adding that the lawyers were working on withdrawing the plea.

The Schweitzers have emerged as 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 over Ireland’s bike and then killed her.

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

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 would file a motion to exonerate him posthumously.

Ian Schweitzer said it was clear to him that the justice system was flawed.

“It didn’t matter if I was innocent,” he said. “They just needed a conviction.”

Martin Tankleff knows how Schweitzer feels. He was wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents on Long Island, New York, and was released in 2007 after 17 years in prison.

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

Schweitzer served his sentence in Arizona due to a lack of prison space in Hawaii. Back on the Big Island, he reflects on what it was like to be home.

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


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

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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