'Lying Eyes' conspiracy conviction cannot be upheld
Published 11/03/2010 | 16:25
The conviction of a mother of two for conspiring to murder her wealthy partner and his two sons by hiring an online hit man cannot be upheld because her co-accused was acquitted, a court heard today.
Sharon Collins was jailed for six years in November 2008 for conspiracy to kill her partner PJ Howard and his two sons Robert and Niall Howard.
The 46-year-old was also found guilty of soliciting a man to kill the three.
The Court of Criminal Appeal was told that because her co-accused - Egyptian-born Las Vegas poker dealer Essam Eid - was acquitted of conspiracy, the state cannot uphold Collins's conviction.
Tom O'Connell, senior counsel for the state, told the court two people had to be guilty of conspiracy.
"Logically it is simply unsustainable," he added.
But Mr O'Connell maintained the state would contest Collins's challenge against her conviction for soliciting.
Collins was found guilty of using the email alias Lying Eyes to find Eid, a "hit man for hire", on the internet and setting up the killings for September 2006.
The Clare woman is fighting her conviction on three charges of soliciting Eid, while he is appealing against a six-year sentence for extortion and handling stolen property.
Collins looked immaculate as she entered the courtroom in a smart black trouser suit and white shirt with fake tan and newly highlighted blonde hair swept back.
Her son Gary sat by her side until the case started.
Brendan Grehan, senior counsel for Collins, told the hearing that his client's appeal would focus on four main points.
They include the evidence of Teresa Engle, Eid's partner who was a convicted felon awaiting sentence in the US, and the evidence of an alibi witness.
It will also focus on the treatment of evidence relating to the poison Ricin and the judge's charge to the jury on the soliciting charge.
Mr Grehan told the court the charges of soliciting referred to a date on or about August 15 2006, when it is alleged Collins and Eid agreed a hit contract and when she sent 15,000 euro to him by Fed Ex.
He said his client denied throughout the garda investigation and seven-week trial that she was Lying Eyes, and maintained there were times when she was not in Ireland when some emails and telephones were apparently made between Lying Eyes and the "hitman for hire" website.
The court case gripped the nation in the summer of 2008.
A jury at the Central Criminal Court heard Collins and Mr Howard held a ceremony in Italy where they declared their love for each other and on their return home, they held a function for friends.
She pretended they were married, obtained a fake marriage certificate through eBay and got a passport in the name of Sharon Howard.
Collins then created her internet alias and through Hitmanforhire.com contacted Tony Luciano - who was otherwise known as Essam Eid, the court heard.
The pair hatched an elaborate plan and the hitman flew to Ireland with his wife to wipe out Mr Howard and his two sons for $90,000 the jury was told.
But when Eid - who has serious heart and health problems - landed in the south-west of the country he tried to blackmail Robert Howard to call off the hit and the pair were caught, the court heard.
Investigators said the case centred on internet searches by Collins on information for inheritance and rights for co-habitants and a partly written email Collins penned to a radio show, which was later recovered on a computer stolen from Mr Howard's workplace and dumped.
On July 9 2008, Collins, of Ballybeg House, Kildysart Road, Ennis, Co Clare - who had denied she was Lying Eyes and planned the plot - was found guilty of conspiracy to murder and soliciting and was remanded in custody.
At her sentencing hearing four months later Mr Howard appealed for the judge to spare his former partner from jail.
"I will not give up on Sharon," he said, pleading for a suspended sentence.
"Sharon is in my opinion one of the nicest people you could ever have been fortunate to know.
"A caring, loving and decent lady."