TWO Athlone brothers are currently serving eleven years in a hellhole South American jail - despite one still proclaiming his innocence.
Dermot, 20, and Leigh O'Neill, 24, from Athlone, were sentenced last week for drugs offences.
One of their brothers this week explained how the pair were handed 11-year terms in one of the most dangerous jails in the world.
Conditions at San Juan de Los Morros jail in Venezuelan capital Caracas are regularly criticised in reports by human rights groups.
Gangs routinely bribe guards to smuggle in arms, with a video posted online by a former inmate even showing members firing automatic weapons into the air.
Last February, a female inmate was killed and two more seriously injured in a mass knife fight, while another man was stabbed to death in April.
The O'Neill brothers are among 1,000 prisoners in the 250-capacity jail - the authorities say they can't give an exact number of inmates as the system isn't computerised.
But while Leigh accepts he did wrong, Dermot still protests his innocence and claims he was only visiting his big brother on holiday.
Dermot was rushed to hospital "with stress" after his sentence was handed down last month. No evidence was found directly linking him to the smuggling charges.
He was later transported to San Juan de Los Morros jail outside Caracas to join his brother Leigh where they both began their terms.
The O'Neill brothers had been travelling with fellow Irishman Martin 'Butch' Beirne in the South American country in March.
Beirne, 28, with addresses in Sligo and Roscommon, died in a Caracas hotel when cocaine-filled balloons burst in his stomach. After his arrest an examination of Leigh O'Neill found "foreign objects" in his body, a police report showed.
He later passed 92 balloons filled with 725 grams of cocaine - with a street value of some Ä50,000.
But an X-ray scan of Dermot O'Neill showed he hadn't swallowed any drugs.
This week, a third O'Neill brother, Daniel, 23, insisted Dermot was innocent and knew nothing about the plans of the other two men - or anything about drugs.
Daniel, who jetted to Venezuela in June to visit his two siblings in jail before they were sentenced, said: "Leigh admitted what he did. He was pleading guilty. He accepts his mistakes.
"Dermie was pleading innocent. He was asleep when the guy died.
"My brother woke him up. It was all a shock to him - he thought they were there on a holiday."
Leigh, who had pleaded guilty, told the court his brother Dermot had "no knowledge" of the efforts by himself and Beirne to smuggle cocaine out of Venezuela. Leigh had "regretted his acts", the court in Caracas was told.
It was Butch Beirne who had "proposed the business" to smuggle cocaine, he claimed.
Dermot was not aware of this. He'd been in Venezuela "travelling, visiting bars and museums".
State prosecutors argued that although Dermot hadn't swallowed cocaine packages, he was indirectly linked to the act, and said both men should receive "the highest penalty".
Daniel said Dermot had intended to plead not guilty, but was told he'd be found guilty no matter what and would be given a longer jail term for denying the charges.
Leigh and Dermot expected a sentence of no more than four to eight years each if convicted.
Daniel recalls the awful moment he received news of the arrest of his two siblings.
He said: "It was terrible. I was shocked."
When he heard last week Leigh and Dermot had been sentenced to 11 years, he said he had "just a lot of empty feelings".
He added: "It's terrible. The fact is that one of my brothers was there at the wrong time."
* The author of this story, Jeff Farrell, wrote 'The Cocaine Diaries: A Venezuelan Prison Nightmare' with Paul Keaney.