A Clare man whose partner is accused of hiring a hitman to kill him and his two sons has told a jury at the Central Criminal Court that he asked his partner to travel to America last year to find the woman she says had access to computers used to contact the hitman website.
Mr PJ Howard told prosecuting counsel Mr Tom O’Connell SC that he asked Sharon Collins to go to Las Vegas in search of Maria Marconi in July 2007.
Ms Collins says Ms Marconi was teaching her to write a novel and visited her in Ireland, gaining access to two computers on which communication was found between Lyingeyes98@yahoo.ie and Hitmanforhire@yahoo.com arranging hits on Mr Howard and his sons Robert and Niall.
Ms 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 has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill PJ, Robert and Niall Howard between August 1, 2006 and 26 September 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 told Mr O’Connell last week that he first heard about Ms Marconi when Sharon mentioned her after the Howard family business was broken into in September 2006. He agreed today that he had never met Ms Marconi. He told Mr O’Connell that Ms Collins spent about ten days in Las Vegas where he had asked her to employ someone to look for Ms Marconi.
When asked if she had hired someone for this purpose he said he “had a list”.
Mr Howard said he had not known about a certificate for a proxy Mexican marriage until the gardaí told him about it. He said he knew that gardaí had found a copy of his birth certificate dated August 2005, in a safe used by Ms Collins.
He said he had never agreed to a proxy marriage but said that Ms Collins had rung him after he made his statement to gardaí and reminded him they had discussed the matter. “It was discussed by me and Sharon but it was so long ago that I had forgotten about it.”
He said he and Ms Collins signed a document before travelling to Italy in October 2005 stating they would not get married. The document, dated October 5th, confirmed that “during this trip to Italy between the 6th and the 13th of October 2005, we are not partaking in any official marriage ceremony with a third party.”
However, he agreed with Mr O’Connell that he had bought Ms Collins an engagement ring although she no longer wore it, “not to my knowledge”.
He told Mr O’Connell that he did not authorise certain payments that appeared on his American Express credit card statement in October 2006. On September 18th 2006 a payment was made to United States Airways for €618.76 for two tickets. The following day a payment for €703.05 was made to Alpha International Accommodations.
He agreed that Ms Collins knew his credit card details which she kept in her purse so that she could pay off the balance using her Internet banking account.
“Her purse was stolen at the end of August, early September in Spain.”
He told Mr O’Connell that Ms Collins had told him her purse had been stolen on September 1st, the day it was taken. He said she told him the purse had been taken in a shop near the apartment he owned in Fuengirola and he believed it was taken by Mr Eid’s partner.
“I have strong reason to believe that Theresa Engels took the purse. She was there at the time. She was in Fuengirola. She was supposed to be staying there for a few days and she disappeared, I think, after one day. People said various things about why she was there.”
Mr Howard agreed with Mr O’Connell that he had refused to give a statement to gardaí about the stolen purse but said he had asked about the issue at a meeting during the investigation when he had travelled to Dublin with “a list of questions” and had talked about “very little else”.
He said that nobody had told him anything but when he returned to Clare the gardai called to his house asking for a statement and he refused.