The exoneration and release from prison last week of Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, a native Hawaiian man, after he had served 21-plus years of a 130-year sentence for the 1991 kidnap, rape, and murder of 23-year-old Dana Ireland on the Big Island drew national attention.
But there was no reference during the court proceeding, nor in the media coverage on national tv news or newspapers from Seattle to New York, of the part Seattle-based Judges for Justice (JFJ) played in turning the court of public opinion in Hawaii in Schweitzer’s favor.
The high-visibility campaign by JFJ and its co-founder and CEO, retired superior court judge Michael Heavey, including a 14-part documentary, to win the day for Schweitzer in turning public attitude likely made his release possible.
“In our documentary, Murder in Hawaii, seen by thousands of Big Island residents, we describe the facts of the crime. We examine key evidence, including the testimony of four eyewitnesses who were never called to give evidence at either trial,” Heavey said. “We explain how the killer -- the only man who left his DNA on Dana Ireland and on a bloody T-shirt found at the crime scene -- could be captured today, 30-plus years later.”
The national attention on Schweitzer’s release from prison was similar to the national visibility that the 1991 murder of the blue-eyed, blonde-haired visitor from Virginia attracted attention that brought intense pressure on Hawaiian police to find the killer.MIKE HEAVEY'S Judges for Justice played a large role in the release of a Hawaiian man after serving 21 years for a crime he didn't commit
“I believe, and I think the people in Hawaii agree, our organization’s involvement paved the way for the smooth sailing yesterday in court.” Heavey said the day after the celebration of Schweitzer and his family in the courtroom.
“The judge was on board, the prosecutor was on board, and the press and public were receptive,” Heavey told me in a telephone interview. “That would not have happened but for our videos which challenged the status quo and changed public opinion from, ‘They are cold-blooded killers, lucky they didn't get the death penalty to ‘they are innocent men, wrongfully convicted.’”
Seeking to explain how Schweitzer, his brother, and Frank Pauline could have been innocent men convicted of a crime they didn’t commit, Heavey explained: “any shocking crime generates fear in the community, fear generates pressure on law enforcement, pressure leads to tunnel vision and can create what we call a 'wrongful conviction climate' where pressure leads to tunnel vision and its perverse byproduct, noble-cause corruption."
“A lot of that was led by law enforcement in this case,” Heavey added.
With the imprisonment of Schweitzer and Pauline, the case was officially closed from 2000 to 2018.
Referring to the impact of the JFJ documentary, Heavey notes:
“At the end of Episode 11, we give the names, addresses, telephone numbers for the prosecutor, mayor and police chief. We then ask viewer that if they believe the case should be opened and the real killer be pursued, please contact these offices." “We have over 37,000 views of Episode 11 and if just one percent, 370 people, contacted them, they would be inundated with calls and letters,”
So in 2018, the case was reopened.
Pauline was murdered in his New Mexico prison so the wrong against him cannot be righted, Heavey notes.
But Heavey also shared with me his belief that the case shouldn’t yet be closed.
Three witnesses testified that the bloody blue T-shirt found next to Dana Ireland’s dying body belonged to Frank Pauline. that was enough for the jury.
But in 2007, new “touch DNA” tests of the T-shirt indicated it was not Pauline’s. Heavey believes that the 2009 file sealed by court order contains an agreement between the prosecutor and HIP to conceal the DNA evidence from Pauline and his attorney. They thus never received the 2007 testing results.
What Heavey said he would like to see happen, in addition to the effort to find the real killer, “is for some investigator to determine how and why there was an effort by the then-prosecutor, HIP, and others not to have the truth on the case reach Pauline and his attorney.”
He notes that the Big Island legal system violated Pauline’s right to know of the DNA results, which if he had been aware of, the result would likely have been that he wouldn’t have been in prison to be murdered.
Heavey and Pauline had several contacts via mail and telephone about the fact the undisclosed DNA evidence should have been made available to Pauline's attorney.
The fact that Heavey's efforts got strong pushback from the Hawaii justice and law enforcement establishments are evidenced by the Hawaii Innocence Project filing two complaints with the Washington State Bar Association over Heavey's involvement in the case.
It was Heavey's work in another case that earned him a nomination for an award from the Washington State Bar Association, an award of merit for what the nomination described as his: "literally thousands of hours over the past four years to achieve the release of Chris Tapp, wrongfully convicted in Idaho of first-degree murder and rape."
Thanks to Heavey's efforts, Tapp walked out of the Idaho prison in March of 2017, a free man after serving more than 20 years of a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit.
JFJ is still involved in cases in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Heavey, 76, who still climbs mountains each year to celebrate his now 20 years of remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, is a decorated Vietnam veteran who is a fully disabled veteran from his exposure to Agent Orange in 1969 during his Vietnam service.
He co-founded Judges for Justice in 2013 with the goal to identify wrongful convictions that leave innocent people imprisoned who can only be freed if someone makes the effort to have them exonerated.
The case that launched Judges for Justice was one with the highest possible visibility, the trial, conviction, and imprisonment of his daughter's high-school friend, Amanda Knox. He got involved in the case of Knox and Raffaele Sollecito's in 2008, shortly after they were arrested for the murder of Meredith Kercher.
Knox was finally freed in October of 2011 after spending four years in prison.
Heavey's comments and the phrases that pepper them leave little doubt that the man who spent 14 years in the Washington State legislature and a dozen years as a superior court judge views the conviction and imprisonment of people who turn out to be innocent as a scar on the face of a nation.
"A wrongful conviction is a failure of the justice system in the most fundamental sense," says Heavey.