MADRID -- Attorney General Edwin Meese III yesterday delivered to Spanish authorities a convicted drug dealer's confession that an American jailed on drug smuggling charges here was tricked into acting as a cocaine courier.
But Spanish lawyers close to the case and western diplomatic sources said that by bringing publicity to the case, Meese's efforts could harm 23-year-old Conan Owen's chances of a swift release. Meese, in Madrid to update a 1970 extradition treaty unrelated to the case, said he had brought documents showing that Owen, a photographer, had been duped into acting as a courier by dealers who substituted a suitcase filled with 24 pounds of cocaine for one containing photographs that Owen was to take to Barcelona.
At a news conference with Justice Minister Fernando Ledesma after signing the extradition accord, Meese said the U.S. Consulate would give the documents to "a court here to assist in the case." Owen, of Annandale, Va., has been in prison in Barcelona since last March 13, when police at the city's airport said they found $200,000 worth of cocaine in his suitcase. Owen has been denied bail and faces a jail sentence of more than six years.
U.S. legal officials expressed hope that the testimony of George Barahona, who said he set up Owen, would be enough to convince Spanish authorities of Owen's innocence.
Barahona testified last week in federal court in Alexandria that he offered Owen, a former photography intern at the White House, $1,000 to take photographs in Chile and Brazil for a Barcelona travel agency.