Friday 15 November 2019

Emer Connolly: First the trial, now it's the book, a documentary and then a movie

Sharon Collins will relish being back in the limelight, still claiming innocence, writes Emer Connolly

'LYING Eyes' Sharon Collins hasn't done anything wrong and has no reason to be regretful. That was the view expressed by her lawyer just hours after her release from prison, having served time for soliciting an Egyptian poker dealer to murder her partner, PJ Howard, and his two sons.

Collins's release from prison on Monday -- after four years and two months in the Dochas Women's Prison in Dublin -- immediately led to conjecture as to her whereabouts and intentions.

The endless intrigue surrounding this woman was rekindled during the week as word trickled through in her home town of Ennis, Co Clare, that she was free. The 49-year-old mother of two is expected to remain on temporary release until her sentence officially expires in late December.

The pulsating case heard how she searched the internet for a contract killer and paid a €15,000 deposit to have her then partner PJ Howard and his two sons, Robert and Niall, murdered. She always denied the allegations, but was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.

Collins does not have permission to speak to the media until her sentence is fully served. However, two major US TV channels are working on documentaries on the absorbing tale, while efforts to secure the rights to make a Hollywood movie based on the story are ongoing.

None of this is any surprise, given the interest that this case -- and its eclectic cocktail of ingredients -- generated.

Several documentaries have been made about it, while hundreds of thousands of words have been written. Yet Collins has never had the opportunity to speak to the media, given her incarceration up until now.

She did have her say during two days of evidence at the trial in the Central Criminal Court. Also, prior to charges being brought against her, she scripted three strongly worded letters to the Director of Public Prosecution in 2007 pleading that she not be prosecuted, claiming that she was entirely innocent.

"I am an ordinary woman, living an ordinary life with which I was happy until this happened. I want my life back before it's too late," she wrote.

Her time to speak out and continue to protest her innocence is just around the corner. Those who know her say she is eagerly anticipating the limelight. She has, according to her legal team, expressed a desire to write at least one book. A deal for this is being worked on, according to sources close to her. She is also sharply focused on her future, with plans to take a course in marketing.

Her lawyer Patrick Moylan said last week: "She hasn't done anything to regret." He told Clare FM's current affairs show Morning Focus that Collins "has at all times maintained her innocence".

He said that she had been through the legal process and the only "mechanism" open to her was to tell her story through a book, a prospect that she no doubt will relish.

He said that Collins cannot live in her home town of Ennis, given the intense media interest in her. Collins's elderly mother Bernadette's home was targeted by the media during a visit by her daughter when she was on temporary release during the summer.

Instead, Collins has chosen to reside, temporarily, in Limerick city, where she bought an apartment six years ago. It will give her the opportunity to visit Limerick Prison weekly -- which is one of the conditions of her temporary release -- while ensuring she remains close to her mother.

Collins was keen to marry PJ Howard, which would have granted her valuable inheritance rights. Although the couple pledged themselves to each other at a ceremony in Sorrento, Italy, in 2005, he declined to marry her, on legal advice.

Collins obtained a Mexican proxy marriage certificate over the internet and, using this, obtained a passport in the name Sharon Howard.

She believed that by having this, she was entitled to inherit PJ's huge fortune, in the event of his death and the deaths of his two sons.

But there was staunch support offered to her by Mr Howard, 63. Despite the evidence produced, he supported her. He told the court that Collins was "very straightforward and honest".

"Sharon is, in my opinion, one of the nicest people you could ever have been fortunate to know. She is a caring, loving and decent lady. I will not give up on Sharon and would have no hesitation whatsoever in living with her again," he told a stunned courtroom.

Then, after he stepped down from the witness box, he showed his affection for her by planting a kiss on her lips.

Later, at her sentencing hearing, he spoke highly of Collins and pleaded for leniency, telling Mr Justice Roderick Murphy: "I am asking the court not to impose a custodial sentence as I do not believe that Sharon poses any threat to my sons."

But alas for Collins, his loyalty hasn't remained steadfast. He has since moved on. Their relationship, which began in 1998, fell apart and his visits to see her in prison ended three years ago. The lavish lifestyle she had been afforded as his partner is in the past.

The multi-millionaire property developer now spends most of his time in Spain, where he owns an apartment. His two sons continue to run the family's property business, which is based in Ennis.

Much has changed in many of the lives of those associated with the case, but one thing remains firm: Collins continues to protest her innocence and the interest in her story remains alive.

She exuded confidence during most of the trial and told the jury that she was forced to go through a "dreadful" and "frightening" ordeal.

"It has destroyed my life and my children's lives. I certainly didn't do any of this," she said.

Her vivid imagination was evident in the detailed emails to 'hitman' where plans to kill the Howards were discussed.

"I know it must seem terrible of me, but my back's to the wall and I don't have much choice. I would prefer it if it was just my husband, but because of the way he has arranged his affairs, it would be way too complicated if his sons were still around and I'd still be in much the same situation as I am now," she wrote in one of her emails.

"I've no conscience about my husband. He's a real asshole and makes my life hell, but I do feel bad about the others. However, I thought about it long and hard and I realise that it is necessary or there is no advantage to getting rid of my husband other than not having to look at his miserable face again. But I must be sure that I will be okay financially," she wrote, to 'hitman'.

There is no doubt that the hysteria surrounding the 'Lying Eyes' case will re-emerge when her opportunity to speak out arrives, as eager anticipation lives on. Despite the passage of time, the interest she has generated refuses to go away as her every move appears to create a stir.

Sunday Independent

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