A man whose partner is accused of conspiring with a Las Vegas poker dealer to organise his assassination and those of his two sons, has told a jury in the Central Criminal Court he decided not get married a second time after his solicitor told him prenuptial agreements had no legal standing in Ireland.
P.J Howard agreed with prosecuting counsel Mr Tom O’Connell SC that he was, financially, a wealthy man. He said he had been advised that any form of marriage would affect his assets.
Clare woman Sharon Collins (aged 45), of Ballybeg House, Kildysart Road, Ennis and Mr Essam Eid (aged 52), an Egyptian man with a Las Vegas address has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill P.J, Robert and Niall Howard between August 1, 2006 and September 26, 2006.
Ms Collins also denies hiring Mr Eid to shoot the three men.
Mr Eid denies demanding €100,000 from Mr Robert Howard to cancel the contracts. He also denies breaking into the Howard family business at Westgate Business Park and stealing two computers, some computer cables, a digital clock and a poster of old Irish money and then handling the stolen items.
Mr Howard said that in 2005 he and Ms Collins signed a document drawn up by Ms Collins which stated they were not and would never get married.
“We signed an agreement between the two of us.”
This document was then handed to the solicitor.
Soon afterwards the couple went on holiday to Sorrento in Italy. “We agreed we would go to a church, the two of us and we would just say a few prayers and we would leave again without any marriage.”
He said he did not object to Sharon telling any of her friends that there had been a marriage.
The couple held a wedding reception party in Spanish Point in Clare several months later and Mr Howard agreed that the printed invitations added to the impression that it was a wedding reception.
He said that he had met Ms Collins in 1998 after his partner, Bernie Lyons, had died from cancer.
Just before Christmas 1998, Ms Collins and her two sons came to live with him in Ballybeg House. After his wife, from whom he was legally separated, died in 2003 he and Ms Collins discussed marriage.
He agreed that he had suffered from ill health and Ms Collins had looked after him while he was sick. She had looked after his medication “for years”.
Mr Howard told Mr O’Connell that Ms Collins was good at computers and her skills were self taught. He said the only computer he had seen her using in the house was a Compaq computer and he had never seen her using the Iridium laptop computer gardaí seized after Ms Collin’s arrest.
He said as well as the house in Ennis, for which he did not have a mortgage, he also owned an apartment in Fuengirola in Spain, also mortgage free.
He told Mr O’Connell that he spent around half the year in Spain and Ms Collins would have been with him half to three quarters of that time. He agreed that she had frequently used local internet cafes.
Mr Howard said he knew nothing about an email sent from firstname.lastname@example.org to a website called Proxymarriages.com. He said he was aware of the P.J Howard account but had never once used it because it had been wrongly set up.
The email was a response to a query signed P.J Howard which expressed concern about the length of time it was taking to organise a proxy marriage and asked about getting a passport using the marriage certificate because “Sharon’s passport is due for renewal soon”.
He said Ms Collins first told him about a woman called Maria Marconi after his son Robert rang him in Spain to tell him the family business had been broken into and a man had told him there was a contract out on his life and those of his brother Niall and P.J himself.
“That evening she told me she had something to tell me in relation to it.”
Ms Collins told him that she had responded to a pop-up advert on the internet and had started corresponding with Ms Marconi who was teaching her to write a book.
Mr Howard thought she had been in contact with Ms Marconi for eight or nine months by email and had also spoken to her on the phone.
Ms Collins told him that Ms Marconi had visited her in Ireland in June 2006. They had met in the offices of Downes & Howard for about an hour and Ms Marconi had used the Advent computer at the reception desk.
She said she had driven Ms Marconi around the Clare area before bringing her back to the house. While there, Ms Marconi had used the Iridium computer.
The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Roderick Murphy and the jury of eight men and four women. It is expected to last for four weeks.