Dana Ireland, 23, was found barely alive in the bushes along a fishing trail in Puna, a remote section of the island.
She was riding her bike on Christmas Eve in Kapoho when she was struck by a vehicle.
Her mangled bike was found at the scene on the dirt road, along with a shoe and clumps of blonde hair.
Thirty minutes later, Ireland was found in the bushes of an off-road fishing trail five miles from the accident scene. She was nude from the waist down and barely conscious.
She died at the hospital from blood loss.
The brutal slaying of the blond-haired, blue-eyed visitor from Virginia gained national attention and remained unsolved for years, putting intense pressure on police to find the killer.
Albert “Ian” Schweitzer, who was convicted in 2000 and sentenced to 130 years in prison, was released after newly analysed DNA evidence from the scene was shown to not come from him or any of the other two men convicted in the case.
DNA evidence found on a “Jimmy Z” brand T-shirt near Ireland and soaked with her blood belonged to the same unknown man, and not to one of the three men, as prosecutors claimed.
The Hawaiian national should be “released from his shackles immediately,” Judge Peter Kubota ruled.
“My feelings were all over the place,” Schweitzer told the AP during a phone interview in recalling the moment of his release. “Nerves, anxiety, scared.”
The justice system is “flawed,” he said, calling himself one of many imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit. He earlier told reporters that he was “grateful” for the judge doing the “honourable thing.”
Being back in Hawaii “tastes great,” Schweitzer told the AP.
“The air is good,” he said. “The water is good.”
“Whenever you have a white, female victim … it gets a lot more attention than people of colour and Native Hawaiians,” said Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project. “The parents, understandably, were becoming more and more infuriated. … There was insurmountable pressure to solve this case. And when that happens, mistakes are made. Some intentional and some unintentional.”
New DNA evidence, according to the petition, shows a “Jimmy Z” brand T-shirt found near Ireland and soaked with her blood belonged to the same unknown man, and not to one of the three men, as prosecutors claimed.
Additionally, a new tire tread analysis concluded Schweitzer’s Volkswagen Beetle car didn’t leave the tire marks at either location where Ireland and her bicycle were found. A forensic odontologist also concluded an injury on her left breast wasn’t a bitemark, as previously believed, the petition said.
In 1994, police made what they believed to be a major breakthrough. A man facing charges for his role in a cocaine conspiracy contacted police and claimed his half-brother, Frank Pauline Jr., witnessed Ireland’s attack, according to the stipulated facts document.
Police interviewed Pauline, who was in his third month of a 10-year sentence for an unrelated sex assault and theft. He claimed brothers Ian and Shawn Schweitzer attacked and killed Ireland. But he was interviewed at least seven times and gave inconsistent accounts each time, eventually incriminating himself, the stipulation document said.
Despite the lack of evidence linking them to the killing, the two Schweitzers and Pauline were indicted in 1997.
At one point the charges were dismissed because all three men were excluded as the source of semen found in Ireland and on a hospital gurney sheet. They were indicted again after another informant claimed Ian Schweitzer confessed to him in jail that Pauline raped and killed Ireland.
Pauline later said he offered details to police about the Ireland murder in order to get drug charges dropped against his half-brother.