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'Incompetent wife of hitman' takes stand

Al Capone's Thompson machine gun, US crime series' and internet recipes for making deadly poisons all got a mention in the 'hitman' trial.

It was all in a day's work for defence counsel David Sutton, who indulged his fondness for American drama at the Central Criminal Court.

In the witness box was Teresa Engle, the former partner of Egyptian poker dealer Essam Eid, accused of an alleged plot to kill three people.

Fellow accused Sharon Collins (45), of Ballybeg House, Kildysart Road, Ennis, is accused of soliciting Mr Eid to kill her partner PJ Howard and his two sons Robert and Niall.

Ms Engle had been working in a Detroit casino in 2003 or 2004 when she met Mr Eid. At the time she was separated from Todd Engle, whom she had married no less than three times.

Marriage

Her fondness for marriage continued when she tied the knot with Mr Eid and moved in with him in Las Vegas, despite the minor distraction of his wife Lisa, living in the same house.

"Is that a rather odd domestic arrangement or would that be considered normal in Las Vegas?" Mr Sutton asked.

"It's quite bizarre," Ms Engle conceded.

Mr Sutton put it to Ms Engle that she had agreed to "perform" in the witness box as part of her plea bargain with the US Attorney's Office.

Ms Engle insisted that she agreed to be a witness before she had made the plea bargain.

"I know we don't make a lot of good television in this country," said Mr Sutton. "But we often look at a lot of US television where we see lawyers making plea bargains and the like, all the time. So we know exactly what they are."

He also claimed that Ms Engle had never planned to kill anyone, but was only interested in extorting money.

Presenting a print-out of the hitmanforhire.com homepage for scrutiny, he detailed the steps would-be clients followed to secure a hit. The website, admitted Ms Engle, had been set up by Essam Eid in 2006.

Hitmanforhire.com may seem like an all-too-obvious way to advertise services, and Mr Sutton was convinced that the site was a piece of "daftness" that would only attract "a fool".

One way or another, Ms Engle claimed the site attracted Ms Collins.

The homepage featured a photograph of immense interest to Mr Sutton. It showed a man in a trilby hat, walking happily along. Across the road from him was a formidable machine gun.

And lest there be any confusion, he was keen to elaborate. "It looks like a Thompson machine gun of the type used by Al Capone," he said.

In preparation for the big mission, Ms Engle and Mr Eid had set up a mini laboratory in their home, she said. An internet search provided a recipe for the deadly poison ricin.

"Who wrote the recipe, as a matter of interest?" asked a fascinated Mr Sutton.

Ms Engle didn't know, but she was able to provide reasonable directions for making it -- boiling and peeling castor beans and mixing them with acetone.

They then placed the powder in a contact lens case and brought it to Ireland for testing.

"You didn't test it on a passing mouse, or a porcupine perhaps?" suggested Mr Sutton.

Teresa Engle arrived in Ireland with Mr Eid on September 24, 2006. Following a meeting with Robert Howard at the Queen's Hotel in Ennis, Ms Engle was arrested.

Rasping

Her soft-spoken tones did not impress Mr Sutton, who said that FBI files had noted her "Midwestern accent" and "deep, rasping, smoker's voice".

"Am I putting on a voice? No, this is my voice," said Ms Engle.

The witness was apparently having trouble understanding his booming voice, leaning forward to hear better.

In a theatrical move, Mr Sutton decided to test his voice projection on the jury, politely asking if they could hear him properly. The response was 12 vigorously nodding heads.

As the day drew to a close, Mr Sutton had another question.

"You're not very good at your job, Mrs Engle, are you? You've been caught every time."

Later he added: "You're an incompetent criminal, would you agree or disagree?"

By now, even Essam Eid was trying to hide the smirk that played across his face.

"Do you agree or disagree that when you're trying to kill someone as you say you are, that it's not a good idea to go and tell them?" asked Mr Sutton.

When he failed to elicit a response, he pressed: "Well, you're in the business."

Even the conscientious jury couldn't suppress the laughter, with stifled giggles erupting.

And with that, the day ended on a high note, for some at least.


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