A retired judge and his group has offered $10,000 to the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney to have genetic genealogical research performed on DNA left on a key piece of evidence in the Dana Ireland murder case.
Mike Heavey, leader of the Seattle-based Judges for Justice, made the offer in a recent meeting with Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville in Hilo.
Heavey, whose group worked to overturn Amanda Knox’s internationally publicized murder conviction in Italy, believes the evidence points to a single attacker, and the three men convicted of the Christmas Eve 1991 abduction, rape and murder of the 23-year-old Ireland, are innocent.
One of those men, Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, is serving a life sentence in the case. Schweitzer’s younger brother, Shawn, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping in 2000 and was sentenced to five years probation and a year in jail.
The third, Frank Pauline, whose confession — later recanted — implicated the Schweitzers in the crime, was murdered by another inmate in 2015 while serving his own life sentence in a New Mexico prison. His death came a day after the Tribune-Herald reported the Hawaii Innocence Project had taken up Ian Schweitzer’s case and was working to exonerate him.
“I believe that Frank Pauline falsely confessed and falsely named Ian Schweitzer. Ian never confessed,” Heavey said Friday.
Heavey, who has produced a video “Who Killed Dana Ireland? Part 1” said he’s “jazzed” about genealogical detective work now being done on DNA samples publicly available through some companies, including GEDmatch. Heavey said he first heard about it in April when the technique led to the arrest of a suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer California authorities think is the “Golden State Killer,” responsible for at least 13 murders, 50 rapes and 120 burglaries over the past four decades.
According to California newspaper reports, DeAngelo was apprehended based on DNA from crime scenes that partially matched the DNA of a relative on GEDmatch, an open-source genealogy website. Law enforcement DNA websites, such as the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), had produced no matches.
Heavey called the combination of DNA science and technology with genealogy “an exciting avenue for solving cold cases.”
“You get the genetic markers from the lab. Then you upload that into … GEDmatch, and you get potential relatives (up to) third or fourth cousin, hopefully. And if you get some relatives, that’s when the detective work begins. Where did they live? What part of the country? How close are they? If you get a second cousin living on Kauai, that’s close.
“… Then, ideally, you get a suspect, then put the suspect under observation. That’s what they did with the Golden State Killer. They waited for him to put his garbage out. They grabbed something with his DNA on it. They put it into another lab, and they had a match.”
The matching of DNA evidence from genealogical websites brings up ethical and privacy questions, such as whether people will want to upload their DNA into genealogy websites such as GEDmatch if they know that evidence can later be used by law enforcement to implicate their children or grandchildren in a crime.
“It’s very controversial,” Margaret Press, a genetic genealogist who co-runs the nonprofit DNA Doe Project told The Atlantic in an April 27 article. “It’s going be debated for a very long time in law and forensics and genealogy and everywhere you can imagine.”
Consumer DNA testing sites such as AncestryDNA and 23andMe require a larger sample of DNA than GEDmatch and didn’t provide information to law enforcement in the case, reports indicate.
The piece of evidence Heavey wants tested and studied for genealogical matches is a JimmyZ brand T-shirt with Ireland’s blood found near a remote fishing path near Waa Waa in Puna where Ireland was found dying after the attack. No DNA from any of the defendants was found on the shirt, and DNA found in hair samples on clothing and semen from a hospital sheet taken from the gurney that held Ireland didn’t match the three men.
According to Heavey, the pressure on police and prosecutors in Hilo from Ireland’s late father, John Ireland, the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink, the group Citizens for Justice and the community-at-large led to what he called a “wrongful-conviction climate in Hilo” at the time.
Heavey’s video points to three witnesses who said they saw a large, dark-complected man at the Kapoho Kai Drive scene where Ireland was hit while riding her sister’s bicycle before she was taken to the Waa Waa fishing path. One of the witnesses allegedly saw the man, who was accompanied by a young boy, load a human figure with white legs into the bed of a Datsun pickup truck before leaving the scene.
None of the three witnesses testified at either Pauline’s or Ian Schweitzer’s trials, and the man, the boy and the truck haven’t been found.
Kapoho Kai Drive and the Vacationland subdivision, where Ireland was staying with her parents, were overrun by lava from the Kilauea lower East Rift Zone eruption earlier this year.
Heavey said FBI profiling of other sexual homicide cases point to Ireland being the victim of a single killer, whom he described as a voyeur who saw the young, attractive blonde woman and became obsessed with her. He further said that the killer, who recognized Ireland on the bike, made a snap decision on the spot to run her down and attack her.
Damerville and his boss, Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth, confirmed the offer of $10,000 for genealogical DNA testing in the Ireland case.
“There’s a cap on his offer, so (it’s not) definite that he’s paying for all of it,” Roth said. “The second thing is that he is not the attorney of record. The Innocence Project is the attorneys of record, and they’re also making some offers. We have to see things in writing. … We’re not saying no.”
Ken Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, said his group has “the funds to pay for our own DNA testing, which is underway.” He noted a rift between his and Heavey’s organizations.
“We’ve asked him to allow the attorneys for the Innocence Project to continue to go forward on the case. He just refuses to do that,” Lawson said. “Our client has asked him. Our client’s family has asked him. And for whatever reason, he continues to go out there and make videos and stuff that are not factually accurate.”
Heavey acknowledged that the Innocence Project has asked him to cease and desist “many times.”
“I can’t promise to do that,” he said. According to Heavey, the only factually inaccurate information in the video is a mistake on where Ireland’s sister, Sandy, lived with then-boyfriend Jim Ingham, whom she later married.
Roth and Damerville haven’t signed on to the single-killer theory but acknowledge there is DNA evidence that doesn’t belong to Pauline or either Schweitzer.
“We’re not giving up on this case until we find who this fourth person is,” Damerville said. He said he’s convinced the case against those already convicted is solid.
Heavey said he’s “glad that Mitch and Rick are looking at possibly doing this.”
“Whether it’s a 10 percent chance or 50 percent chance, it doesn’t matter,” he said about the prospects of finding the individual he believes responsible for Ireland’s death.
“Even if it’s a 10 percent chance, we’ve got to take it.”
To view the video “Who Killed Dana Ireland? Part 1,” visit www.judgesforjustice.org.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.