Woman claims she was 'blackmailed' in conspiracy to kill trial

A Clare woman accused of hiring a former Las Vegas poker dealer to kill her partner and his two sons told gardai she had been blackmailed into sending €15,000 to her co-accused’s Nevada address a jury at the Central Criminal Court jury has heard.

Ms Sharon Collins (aged 45), with an address at Ballybeg House, Kildysart Road Ennis and Mr Essam Eid (aged 52), an Egyptian man with a Las Vegas address have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill PJ, 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.

Detective Sergeant Michael Moloney told prosecuting counsel Ms Una Ni Raifeartaigh BL that Ms Collins said she had begun to receive threatening emails after her American writing mentor, Maria Marconi, was broken into.

Ms Collins told gardai she had nothing to do with any plot to kill her partner PJ and his sons Robert and Niall Howard. “If anything happened to P.J. I would be out on my ear. We did nothing. We have nothing in place yet. We were going to but we have nothing done.”

Ms Collins said “Every relationship has ups and downs but you don’t go out and try and kill somebody.”

She said “You don’t know how much I love that man and Robert is like a son to me.”

Detective SergeantMoloney said Ms Collins told gardai she had become friendly with her writing mentor Maria Marconi. It is the prosecution case that Ms Marconi does not exist.

She said she received an email in January 2006 which asked if the reader had a talent in writing. “I replied to this email with a view to writing something and getting some assistance with it and maybe with contacting a publisher.”

She told gardaí that this initial email lead to correspondence with Ms Marconi who told her she was a writer herself and had written several books under a pseudonym.

She told gardai she no longer had Ms Marconi’s contact details because her email account and computer address book had been wiped some time before her arrest in February 2007.

She told gardai she had met Ms Marconi in June 2006, when she had visited Ireland. She described her as “about 47. Tall, about 5’7”; slim build; blond hair, shoulder length; brown eyes; well groomed; sallow complexion, wearing very little makeup; American accent.”

She said Ms Marconi had told her she had been born in America with an Italian father. She had two sons and was divorced but in a new relationship. She told gardaí she had got on well with her.

Ms Collins said she arranged to meet Ms Marconi at the offices of Downes & Howard, the family business run by Robert Howard. She said that while she made coffee, Ms Marconi checked her emails on the computer at reception.

She said she brought Ms Marconi on a tour of Ennis and Co. Clare, pointing out the houses of all her family. They went back to the house she shared with PJ Howard. PJ was staying at his apartment in Spain at the time.

They were at the house for a short time. While there, Ms Marconi used the toilet in the couple’s upstairs bedroom. The following day Ms Marconi rang her to say she had forgotten her purse at the office so they agreed to meet there.

She said Ms Marconi had once again asked to check her email and had left once or twice to collect things from her car.

Ms Collins told gardaí that some time later she received an email from Ms Marconi to say her apartment had been broken into. She said this would have been around July 24 2006. PJ had had a fall in Spain and had spent a night in hospital. She had stayed with him and been unable to check her email. When she did manage to she found there were several emails from an unknown address which said “You are an attractive woman. You could be rich and independent.”

She said that, thinking it was junk mail, she had deleted it but she kept receiving the same email. After a couple of days an email arrived marked “Sharon, personal attention” which said much the same as the previous mails.

Then around August 8 she received an email demanding €20,000 so that an attachment was not forwarded on to PJ. “It was a copy of the email I had sent to Maria in about April of this year. The contents of this were personal and it concerned things which I had said to Maria about P.J which I didn’t necessarily mean and which were exaggerated but which I certainly wouldn’t wish for P.J to see.”

She said she was frightened by the threats and decided to send the money by FedEx. She gathered together €15,000 and sent it from Shannon Airport in a parcel with some goggles.

She told gardaí that on September 19th she received an email which read; “You stupid bitch. Why don’t you answer the phone? Do you think that €15,000 would get rid of me?”

Detective Sergeant Moloney said she told gardai she had never seen Essam Eid or contacted him by phone or email. She had phoned an American number several times around the time she was sending the money but had not called 70 times (the number of times her number was found to have contacted Essam Eid’s number).

She said that most of the calls had been to Maria Marconi and the calls must have been somehow rooted to Mr Eid’s number.

She categorically denied having an affair with Mr Eid. The jury heard today that Mr Eid had retracted his claim to gardai that he had an affair with Ms Collins for two or three years.

Ms Collins said she worked part time at Downes & Howard for which she was paid €850 a month. She said she received another €1,000 from PJ and he also took care of all her expenses.

She said Mr Howard owned a lot of property over two companies; Downes & Howard and Waymill Limited. She estimated he was worth around €12m.

The trial will continue tomorrow before Mr Justice Roderick Murphy and the jury of eight men and four women.

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