Martin Earley, of Carrowmore Lacken, Ballina, Co Mayo, appeared before Judge Patrick Durcan at a special sitting of Ballina District Court yesterday charged with murdering Sandra Collins, aged 29, from Killala, Ballina, on or about Dec 4, 2000, at a place unknown.
The accused sat with his arms folded as relatives of his alleged victim occupied seats only feet away in the small courtroom. Once the five-minute hearing was over Earley was taken away to Castlerea Prison.
After evidence of arrest, charge, and caution was given by Det Garda Eddie Naughton, Supt Pat McHugh said the DPP had directed that the accused stand trial at the Central Criminal Court.
Supt McHugh asked that Mr Earley be remanded in custody to Harristown Court (Castlerea Prison) on Friday next for the preparation of a book of evidence.
Alan Gannon, for the accused, said the case involved “a matter of some antiquity” and he wanted to know when the book of evidence would be ready.
Earlier, Det Garda Naughton said when he arrested Mr Earley at Carrowmore Lacken on Thursday, on a charge of murdering Ms Collins, the accused replied: “No comment.” He was brought to Ballina Garda Station where he charged him. In reply, Earley said: “Nothing to answer.”
Sandra was last seen in Killala at 11pm on Dec 4, 2000, when she went to buy two portions of chips.
Four days later, her jacket was found on the pier.
Despite intensive searches of the coastline and farm buildings, no trace of her was ever found.
A recent appeal for information yielded information that had previously been unknown — details of a white van seen in Killala on the night of the disappearance.
After yesterday’s hearing, Ms Collins’s brother Patrick told reporters: “Our dearest wish now is to get Sandra’s remains back so we can give her a decent burial.”
He said all they wanted was to be able to remember her at her grave and said they would never give up on seeking closure.
“Sandra is at the forefront of our minds every day. She was so dignified, such a lady. We were never going to give up on her. They’ve [gardaí] been fantastic.
“People who never knew Sandra, up and down the country, who were praying for Sandra... If there’s such a thing as Heaven then Sandra is looking down on us.”