The wife of a former Las Vegas poker dealer has told a jury in the Central Criminal Court she helped her husband make the deadly poison Ricin in their Nevada home.
Ms Teresa Engle told prosecuting counsel Mr Tom O’Connell SC she helped Mr Essam Eid to make the toxin following instructions Mr Eid had found on the internet.
She said they were intending to use the Ricin to carry out a contract killing ordered by Mr Eid’s co-accused in this trial.
Ms Sharon Collins (aged 45), with an address at Ballybeg House, Kildysart Road, Ennis and Mr Eid (aged 52), an Egyptian man with a Las Vegas address have 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.
Ms Engle told Mr O’Connell Mr Eid had made the Ricin using castor beans he had bought over the internet together with acetone and a third ingredient she could not remember.
“I think we boiled the beans and took the skins off, blended it with the acetone and something else then put it through a filter. Then it dried out into a powder.”
She said Mr Eid put the powder in a contact lens case. She said she thought it filled both sides of the case. Mr Eid then took the case with him when the two of them went to Ireland to carry out the contract killing on Mr Howard and his two sons.
Ms Engle told the court she had been given a letter of immunity from prosecution by the gardaí. She agreed she had pleaded guilty to extortion for a separate case in the US and was currently awaiting sentence for that.
She told Mr O’Connell Mr Eid ran a website called Hitmanforhire.com which he had set up in February or March 2006. She said he used the name Tony Luciano on the website.
She said that several people contacted the site to arrange contract killings and several more had been in touch looking for work. In August 2006, Sharon contacted the website looking to take a contract out on P.J., Robert and Niall Howard.
Ms Engle said she had overheard phone conversations between Mr Eid and Sharon. Sharon had a “very strong Irish accent” and she spoke fast because he kept having to tell her to slow down so he could understand.
The emails were sent under the name Lyingeyes. At the end of August a deposit arrived at the house comprising of €15,000 in a package with a pair of gaming goggles.
Ms Engle said she then travelled to Ireland where she met Mr Ashram “Ash” Gharbeiah, a friend of Mr Eid’s. She stayed at the Queen Hotel in Ennis and made herself familiar with Ennis, in particular the business park where the Howards’ property business was based.
She said she wasn’t sure what exactly Ash planned to do. “I know he had several medicines that were supposed to cause a heart attack or somebody to die. And he was going to put them in wine or liquor.”
She said they went to a “grocery store” and looked at bottles of alcohol but did not buy anything.
“He decided that this plan was not do-able. That he couldn’t do it.” She said she thought Ash left Ireland the following day.
She continued on to Spain to familiarise herself with the area around P.J. Howard’s apartment in Fuengirola. She was also supposed to pick up the keys to the apartment which she said Sharon had left for her at the hotel desk in an envelope marked with her name.
Ms Engle said she had the keys in her possession up until her arrest in Ennis in September 2006 but had told gardaí they were her house keys before disposing of them in a waste bin in the ladies toilets at Ennis Court House.
She had been supposed to use the keys to get into the apartment in Spain but had been feeling ill and had not felt up to it so she returned to the States via Ireland.
She said Mr Eid was furious when she returned home and told him the plan had not been carried out. He contacted Sharon and told her he would do the job himself but would need more money.
Ms Engle said she had seen an email from Sharon giving details of an American Express card in the name of PJ Howard. Flights for herself and Mr Eid as well as a hotel room were booked using these details.
The second trip to Ireland took place in September 2006. They stayed at the Two Mile Inn in Ennis. She said Mr Eid was trying to contact Sharon by phone and email but with no success.
They had agreed to break into the Howard business to take two computers Sharon had asked to be disposed of. Ms Engle said Sharon had left the keys for office under a stone behind a house in the nearby estate. She had also provided the alarm codes.
She said she and Mr Eid had broken into the office late at night. She had disabled the alarm and taken the computer at reception while Mr Eid had taken a laptop and some computer cables.
They brought everything back to the hotel and hid it in a wooded area out the back but Mr Eid had brought the laptop and cables back up to the room. Ms Engle said that he became furious as Sharon remained out of contact. He decided to offer Robert Howard the opportunity to buy the contract.
She said Mr Eid drove them out to the house Robert Howard shared with his brother. She could see him talking to Robert from where the car was parked and she could also see someone standing at a window at the side of the house.
Ms Engle told Mr Paul O’Higgins SC, defending Ms Collins, that she had married her previous husband, Mr Todd Engle, three times. She said she had married Mr Eid in Las Vegas while both he and she were married. She lived with Mr Eid and his wife Lisa. She agreed with counsel for Mr Eid, Mr David Sutton SC that the living arrangement was “bizarre”.
She said she had acted under the “total control” of Mr Eid and had only taken part in the events in Ireland because of his influence.
She agreed that she had pleaded guilty to extortion after her involvement in a “scam” in California in September 2006, in which a woman called Royston had been offered the chance to buy herself out of a contract on her life.
She denied that she was a “fraudster” and that she had still been under Mr Eid’s control when she threatened Ms Royston’s boyfriend, Mr Hammond, “when Royston is buried next Tuesday”.
She told Mr Sutton that the plan had been to kill someone and had not simply been a scam to extort money. Although she agreed she “couldn’t believe it” when someone actually contacted Hitmanforhire.us looking to hire a contract killer.
She denied that she was disguising her voice for the jury and said she was not “a criminal and a fraudster” although she agreed with Mr Sutton that she was “an incompetent criminal” and insisted she had been all the time controlled by Mr Eid.
The trial will continue tomorrow before Mr Justice Roderick Murphy and the jury of eight men and four women.