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Spanish Officials Say Prison Where US Man Held Receives Notice of Release

November 3, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Spanish Embassy officials say a formal notice of release was delivered Wednesday to the Spanish prison where a photographer from Virginia is scheduled to be released to the U.S. government.

Conan Owen, 24, of Annandale, Va., has been imprisoned since March 1987 on cocaine trafficking charges. U.S. officials say Owen was set up by drug smugglers, and Spanish officials announced Friday that Owen would be transferred to the United States to complete his six-year sentence.

″A formal notice of agreement of the Spanish government was given a few hours ago to the jail in Barcelona by the Spanish Ministry of Justice,″ Spanish Embassy spokeswoman Helga Soto said Wednesday evening.

She said she did not know the exact date of Owen’s release.

″I think it is a fast process, but I don’t know when it will take place,″ Soto said.

U.S. officials have the authority to parole Owen as soon as he arrives.

″You pray that it was yesterday, hope it will be tomorrow and expect the end of the month,″ said Ernest Owen, Conan’s father, after learning of the transfer of papers.

″This is probably the first of a number of administrative steps,″ Ernest Owen said. ″The hurdle was the agreement by the Spanish government to release him, and that’s been cleared.″

He said he had not been notified by the embassy of any official action.

The Owen family has waged an unflagging campaign to convince U.S. authorities that their son had been duped into acting as a drug courier.

Their efforts eventually led to a U.S. prosecutor in Alexandria, Va., a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Madrid, DEA Administrator John C. Lawn and ultimately then-Attorney General Edwin Meese III to conclude that Owen was innocent of the trafficking charges.

An Alexandria, Va., resident, George Barahona, admitted in February that he and others - without Owen’s knowledge - hid four pounds of cocaine in a false bottom of a suitcase that they then asked Owen to take to Barcelona.

Owen had been hired to do freelance photography work for Barahona in Spain.

At the time, a Justice Department spokesman said Meese was confident that the court papers, including a polygraph test passed by Owen, would convince Spanish authorities to drop the charges.

In April 1987, however, a court in Barcelona found Owen guilty of drug trafficking, sentencing him to six years and a day in prison and imposing an $18,000 fine. In a written opinion, the judges said they rejected Barahona’s confession because it was obtained as part of a plea bargain, which is illegal in Spain.

Owen became eligible to return to the United States under an international treaty governing exchanges of sentenced prisoners. To become eligible for return under the treaty, Owen had to drop his appeal of his conviction in Spanish courts.

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