‘An extraordinary coincidence’

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On Sunday, the Tribune-Herald broke a story about a law group’s efforts to exonerate a co-defendant in one of Hawaii’s most notorious murders.

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On Sunday, the Tribune-Herald broke a story about a law group’s efforts to exonerate a co-defendant in one of Hawaii’s most notorious murders.

On Monday, a key witness in that effort was dead.

A lawyer for the Hawaii Innocence Project on Tuesday called the timing “an extraordinary coincidence.”

Brook Hart, a prominent Honolulu defense attorney and HIP volunteer lawyer, said it’s “premature to predict with any certainty” the impact the death Monday of Frank Pauline Jr. in a New Mexico prison will have on the case of Hart’s client, Albert “Ian” Schweitzer.

Schweitzer is serving a life sentence with a minimum of 130 years in an Arizona prison for the abduction, rape and murder of Dana Ireland, 23, on Christmas Eve 1991 in lower Puna.

Pauline was serving a life sentence with 180-year minimum when he was found dead Monday, on his 42nd birthday, in the recreation yard of Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility.

Pauline’s 1994 confession, later recanted, implicated Schweitzer and Schweitzer’s younger brother, Shawn.

“I don’t know what the circumstances were at the New Mexico prison, but it’s an extraordinary coincidence that, within one day of the publication of the article, a key witness was dead,” Hart said Tuesday.

Shawn Schweitzer, who was 16 when the crime occurred, made a plea deal and was sentenced to five years probation and a year in jail, already served, for manslaughter. The younger Schweitzer spoke at his own sentencing, but did not testify at Pauline’s or his brother’s trials.

Pauline later said he fabricated his confession to help his half-brother, John Gonsalves, receive a lighter sentence on a drug charge.

“If that is true … then he would probably be potentially an important witness down the road in our efforts to vindicate Albert Ian Schweitzer,” Hart said.

A statement from the New Mexico Corrections Department gave no details about how Pauline died, other than to say CPR was performed, but contained the line: “No suspects have been named at this time.”

Gonsalves reportedly told a Honolulu newspaper he received a call from a New Mexico prison official telling him Pauline was struck by a rock in the back of the head during a fight in the prison yard.

The Tribune-Herald attempted to contact Gonsalves, unsuccessfully, for this story.

Charlotte Decker, who ministers to inmates and knows Pauline, doesn’t believe the fight explanation and thinks Pauline was targeted.

“Who ordered this murder? Who ordered it?” she said. “Somebody had to order it. … Frank did not start the fight. Because if he started the fight, he’d have finished it. He’s a strong man. … I know Frank was murdered.”

HIP had post-conviction DNA testing done on evidence in the case in 2007, including semen taken from Ireland’s body and the hospital gurney on which she died. Prosecutors at trial stipulated the semen didn’t belong to any of the defendants.

Also done was “touch” DNA testing, which wasn’t available when Pauline and Ian Schweitzer were tried, on a Jimmy Z T-shirt jurors were told belonged to Pauline.

“We’ve got the DNA part of it pretty well established,” Hart said. “All that’s needed is the FBI to tell us who is the producer of the DNA that didn’t belong to Schweitzer, the brother, Shawn Schweitzer, or Frank Pauline. Whether the FBI is going to do that or not remains to be seen.”

Another group, Judges for Justice, also is advocating for a review of evidence in the case.

Michael Heavey, a retired Seattle judge who heads the mainland group, also thinks the three are innocent of Ireland’s rape and killing. Decker and Heavey say Pauline became a born-again Christian during his incarceration.

“Because he knew he was innocent, he felt strongly that some day he would be free, and he would dedicate his life to telling young people to not follow his example,” Heavey said in a statement. He said he expects Judges for Justice will continue its quest for an official review of the case.

The two groups differ in approach. HIP didn’t reveal its involvement in Ian Schweitzer’s case until contacted by the Tribune-Herald. Judges for Justice, on the other hand, contacted the Tribune-Herald about its interest in a review of the case. That caused friction between the groups, Hart and Heavey acknowledged.

“I’m just hopeful that the justice system and the effort to get to the truth would actually happen in the Ireland case (and) has not been compromised by these most recent events and the murder of Mr. Pauline,” Hart said.

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HIP, which is affiliated with the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, “provides free legal assistance to Hawaii prisoners with substantiated claims of actual innocence in seeking exoneration, including investigating and obtaining DNA testing,” according to its website.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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