American Kerry Wiley picked the worst place in the world to get caught with a pound of marijuana -- the Southeast Asian nation of Malaysia, where possession of more than an ounce means the death penalty. Unless Wiley, 37, can prove the pot wasn't his, he will be hanged.

It has been almost a year since Malaysian police handcuffed Wiley and led him off to the sordid Pudu prison in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Authorities there have clamped the lid on any information about his case. But our associate Jim Lynch traveled to Kuala Lumpur and was able to find out more about the American facing death row.

Photos of the manacled Wiley don't look like the stereotype of a drug dealer. At the time of his arrest he was fit and handsome with a neat mustache. The little information available on him lists his last occupation as "computer lecturer from Sacramento."

How Wiley got into this mess is difficult to say. He was at the home of a Kuala Lumpur resident when police raided the home and seized 1.1 pounds of "ganja." In the United States, conviction for such a crime would earn up to five years in jail, and first offenders would probably skate with a suspended sentence.

But Wiley was not in the United States. Instead he was in the corner of the Earth where draconian rules govern drug trafficking. The reason is geography. Malaysia shares a long border with Thailand, one of three nations that make up the notorious Golden Triangle, the source of most of the world's heroin.

At the foot of Malaysia is Singapore, a drug traffickers' haven before Malaysia and Singapore decided the best way to derail business was to start hanging people.

The noose awaits anyone carrying more than half an ounce of heroin, seven ounces of marijuana or 33 ounces of opium. Those caught with lesser amounts often get life in prison, or, at the very least, a whipping with a "rotan," a thick piece of bamboo.

Whether the heavy-handed tactics work is debatable, but Drug Enforcement Administration officials told us there is evidence that Southeast Asian drug runners are picking other routes, including through Hong Kong or China.

Malaysia is not about to change or bend the law for anyone. This summer eight Hong Kong residents were hanged in one morning, despite a plea for leniency from British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The U.S. Embassy in Malaysia says Wiley's case is a top priority, but that doesn't mean the embassy can do anything about it. Embassy officials are reduced to prison checkups to make sure Wiley is well.

Malaysian due process has been slow for Wiley. It took 10 months before prosecutors presented their evidence at a hearing early this month. They questioned only half of their scheduled 20 witnesses and then delayed the hearing until October. Presumably Wiley will be able to tell his side of the story then. He must prove the marijuana didn't belong to him. Otherwise a "computer lecturer from Sacramento" will die in a foreign jail.

To Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the issue is simple: "We think {drug dealers} are killers, because so many of these young boys who have taken these drugs are dying or dead. It's murder."