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Tag: Essam Eid (Page 3 of 4)

Only Two Days to Go!

It’s only two days until Devil in the Red Dress is launched.  It should be on the shelves by the weekend.  Every time I walk into a bookshop I imagine how it’ll look on the shelves.  Now I don’t have long to wait to see if I’m right.

I’m concentrating on the book this week so I won’t be blogging about the current trials in the Four Courts.  I’ll be finding out about what happens in the Dane Pearse trial the same as anyone else – on the news.  It’s rather nice not to have to sit through another lot of post mortem evidence, even though after a while they become just data and facts.

A couple of us on the press bench were talking last week about the effect that following the courts has on you.  There was a general consensus that we’re generally speaking a cynical bunch.  Day after day seeing the worse side of humanity tends to have that effect.

One of the things that attracted me to the story of Sharon Collins and Essam Eid was the fact that with this trial there were no post mortems.  I’m not saying it wasn’t a harrowing experience for those who received a visit from “Tony Luciano” but the fact is that both Sharon Collins’ plot to kill her millionaire partner and his two grown up sons and Essam Eid’s scam to approach the “marks” and demand money to cancel the “hit” ended up miserable failures.

During the closing speeches in their trial, earlier this year, it was pointed out that, even without a body count, people had still been hurt.  Certainly listening to the victim impact statement given by Robert and Niall Howard at the sentence hearing it was clear that they had suffered immensely, living in fear since the incident and their relationship with their father seriously damaged by his refusal to give up on the woman who had plotted to have them killed.

But even taking their pain into account, this was still “light relief” compared to trials involving a violent death.  As I researched Devil the sheer breadth of farce in this plot kept taking me by surprise.  On this blog I have links to the websites that featured in the case…take a look, tell me, do these look like legitimate businesses?

Whoever happened upon hitmanforhire.net and thought they’d found the answer to all their problems was at best gullible, at worst deluded.  The fact that Sharon Collins admitted to buying a Mexican proxy marriage certificate from proxymarriages.com, even after receiving an email from the Mexican embassy telling her that double proxy marriages did not in fact exist in Mexico, is rather a strong indicator that her radar for a good Internet buy is a bit skewed.

I feel for the Howard brothers, as well as Sharon’s own two sons Gary and David Collins.  Even Eid and his co-conspirator Teresa Engle have children who do not deserve the humiliation of a connection with a case as ridiculous as this.  Sharon’s partner, P.J. Howard had to put up with the shame of having lurid sexual allegations made about him in court, allegation that he has since strongly denied.

But for an outsider’s point of view it’s an incredible story and despite all that humiliation, a comparatively victimless crime. Ricin may have featured but it was never actually called into play – if it had been we may have had a completely different story.

It might be a rather bleak and black comedy but it’s easy to see it as a comedy none the less.  Many have compared the plot to the Cohen brothers and it certainly would make a good companion piece to Fargo.  I hope that anyone who reads my book will get a sense of the story that reads like a movie plot.

It remains to be seen if it ever ends up on the silver screen but if it does, they won’t have to change a thing!

The Devil in the Red Dress has arrived!

Devil will hit the shelves at the end of the week.  I got my first copy on Friday and it feels strange to finally hold it in my hands complete with glossy cover and new book smell!  Seeing it sitting on the bookcase it somehow looks as if it’s not my book anymore – it gets to go out without me and have a life of it’s own now.

It’s been a very intense couple of months with first the trial then researching and writing the book.  Now I have to start the next bit…selling it.  On Thursday, the book will be officially launched then it’s due to hit the shops on Friday.  All the digging and prodding and frantic typing are at an end.

It’s hard to believe that Sharon Collins and Essam Eid were only sentenced two weeks ago.  It was an extraordinary end to an even more extraordinary story and I’m glad that I waited to give Devil in the Red Dress that final chapter but it has meant a flurry of activity since that day to get everything out on time.

But now the writing’s done and all that’s left is the marketing.  I’ll be promoting Devil the traditional way but am also keen to explore the new opportunities offered by the Internet.  The story of Collins and Eid is so much a story of our time and every part of this story has been firmly rooted on the Net.

The initial hook was the Hitmanforhire website, the email correspondence between Sharon and the fictional “Tony Luciano” that cooked up the plot, the ingredients for ricin were allegedly bought online for the recipe that had been sourced there and the conspirators finally met their downfall due a garda investigation that relied on technical evidence to solve the case.

Even my research for Devil was largely conducted online.  I was able to research the American side of the story from my laptop and found out more than I could ever which to know about the toxic properties of castor beans in some of the less salubrious chatrooms out in cyberspace.

If ever there was a trial that was rooted in the world we live in today it was this one…it would be nice if Devil gets it’s own life online.

Almost Time to Get off the Rollercoaster…

The Devil in the Red Dress is almost ready.  The first copies should arrive back from the printers this evening.  I’ve spent the day getting ready for the launch.

It’s a very odd feeling to invite people to my own book launch.  I’ve dreamed of having one, but now the one for Devil is only a week away it’s feeling all very real.  I’ve seen all the layouts for the cover and the text and the picture section but actually seeing it in a real book, actually holding it in my hands and seeing on the shelves.  That’s exciting.

Now all I have to do is find something to wear…maybe not red though…

Finally Ready to Roll

So it’s all done bar the shouting.  The Devil in the Red Dress is almost ready to hit the shelves and several months of stress and hard work is finally nearing fruition.  My story of lyingeyes98 and hire_hitman has finally come close to being complete, apart from a last bit of polishing.

The last couple of days, writing an end to the story and composing and epilogue, not to mention giving interviews in the first throws of publicity for The Book, I’m really beginning to appreciate the absurdity of this story.

Now there’s been a lot of discussion around the country about whether the jury were right or not to convict the Clare housewife of plotting to kill her millionaire boyfriend and his two sons.  I’ve heard a lot of arguments about whether Sharon Collins is innocent or guilty and naturally enough the conspiracy theories started flying before she’d even hit the prison yard.

I’ve spent the past couple of months researching the subject.  It comes in handy when you’re writing a book on the subject.  I also sat in court every day of that 32 day trial.  I have read all the emails sent to and from the website hitmanforhire.net, both those from Sharon to the mysterious Tony Luciano or Essam Eid, who may or may not have been a hitman (even a jury couldn’t agree on that one) and the ones from the two hapless guys who contacted the website looking for work (?).

No matter what you think of the hapless Mr Eid, who entered into a life of crime only to be arrested on both outings, the emails sent by “Bernie Lyons”, the woman who kept forgetting not to sign herself Sharon, point in one direction only.

There are a lot of emails.  It makes fascinating reading  – it’s not often you get to read a plot from beginning to end.  But one thing is clear, at least one of these parties was absolutely sure what she wanted.

During the trial both defence teams made a lot of effort to prove that neither Collins nor Eid had actually written those emails.  But when the emails from Tony Luciano are written in the bouncy but broken English that mirrored exactly the language in the statements made to gardai after his arrest in September 2006.  The emails from Lying eyes also have a haunting familiarity for anyone who sat through Sharon Collins trial.

I spoke to her several times during those eight weeks, I watched her give evidence over two days.  I’ve spent months poring over those emails and I’ve come to one inevitable conclusion.  Either the person who wrote them was a Pulitzer worthy author or an Oscar ready method actor or a certain blonde 45-year-old woman from County Clare simply didn’t cover her tracks sufficiently.

I know that it’s easy to look at a story this complex and see some hidden conspiracy but sometimes Occam’s Razor is the way to go.  As the gardai pointed out at Sharon Collins sentencing on Monday, she is the ONLY person who could have sent EVERY email to the wannabe hitman and who was also in the right country to place EVERY phone call to Mr Luciano.

There will no doubt be an appeal at some stage and they will find as they do, but I’ve read a hell of a lot of evidence during the writing of this book and anyone who could have set up Sharon Collins could have commanded a hell of a lot larger prize than the mere €100,000 demanded by Eid when he landed up on her “step-sons” doorstep and demanded money to drop the hit.  We’re talking world class hackers here.

I suppose I’m just asking the general population to look at the facts before they cry conspiracy.  It’s a complex case, believe me! But the outcome certainly appears pretty straightforward when you look at the evidence given in court.

We’re not talking about an innocent little ingenue here.  We’re talking about a 45-year-old divorcee and mother of two grown up sons who knew what side her bread was buttered on and wanted to secure her position.

Nothing wrong with that…but I wouldn’t recommend you look for the ultimate solution on Yahoo, or Google for that matter.  As Sharon Collins found out, there are an awful lot of fakes on the Internet!

Finally the End Really is in Sight!

So Sharon Collins and Essam Eid woke up this morning knowing how long they’d be looking at the same four walls.  It’s hard to believe that after all this time the story finally has an end.  Now all that’s left was to give my story an end which shouldn’t have been so difficult since they’re one and the same story.

It was a ridiculously busy day yesterday.  The sentence hearing went on most of the day and by the time I finished work it was almost ten o’clock so I was looking forward to a fairly gentle start to the day before settling down to writing.

But some time after 8 the phone rang and there was a voice saying they were calling from the Gerry Ryan Show.  Now Gerry Ryan is one of the top broadcasters in Ireland.  He’s also a pretty integral part of the Sharon Collins story.  One of the most lurid elements of the trial was a certain letter recovered by gardai from the hard drive of one of the computers Sharon had access to.

This letter, only part of which survived, had been written in a fit of pique around April 2006.  It was part of an email to the Gerry Ryan Show and the section that survived was a catalogue of allegations about PJ Howard’s sexual tastes.  Now Sharon has said that these allegations were taken out of context and PJ has said they are just totally untrue but the Gerry Ryan letter is still one of the most distinctive pieces of evidence.

Well today it wasn’t Sharon contacting the show, it was the show contacting me.  I ended up reminiscing with Mr Ryan himself about his appearance in court.  An unexpected start to the day to say the least.  And after the Gerry Ryan Show it was Neil Prendeville on 96FM in Cork to follow up on a piece I did for him before the sentence yesterday…all before 10.30 in the morning.  Then Spin 103 just before 2.  I suppose this is what they mean by publicity – I’m feeling positively over exposed but if it gets The Devil in the Red Dress out to a wider audience then needs must.

But the main work of the day was writing my final chapter.  In fairness this is a story that pretty much tells itself but there was still an awful lot to cover just giving an account of yesterday’s events.

It’s now almost done and now the real work begins.  It’ll be a while yet before I can stop telling this story but I’m beginning to look forward to moving into the next phase of this author business.  Right now though I’m so tired I could fall over so a more in depth post will just have to wait until tomorrow.

An Extraordinary Day

So Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will both be serving six years in jail.  The sentences when they were finally handed down after a long day of evidence and pleas for clemency.  Then there was reaction to gather and copy to file.  It’s been a long day.

So finally the story has an ending – at least until Sharon’s legal team get an appeal underway, as we were informed that they would do by her solicitor Eugene O’Kelly at the obligatory scrum outside the gates of the Four Courts.

The sentence hearing itself was particularly well attended.  It’s hard to believe that in the early days of the trial, when people were still finding it hard to grasp just how extraordinary this trial was going to be, that there was room for any hacks to have their pick of seats.

Today was a different case entirely.  What seemed like half the Bar descended like a flock of black crows, jostling for seats with the grannies that seem to multiply every time you look the other way.  There was a particularly animated crowd of onlookers today, all taking their seats early for what did turn out to be one of the liveliest sentence hearing’s we’ve seen in a while.

Right from the off there was gathering excitement when word got round that PJ Howard, Sharon’s number 1 victim and simultaneously number 1 fan club had left his Spanish hideaway to support her in Court.

He took his seat beside his sons in the space they had occupied in the early days of the trial, two benches behind the barristers for the various parties.  Sharon had also arrived with plentiful support.  Her mother Bernadette was by her side, looking frail and tense.  Her former husband Noel was there as well as he had been before to support the mother of his two sons.

And of course her boys were there.  Gary and David as stalwart as ever sitting by their mother’s side, although today a prison officer sat between underlining her new status.

Essam Eid was last to take his seat.  He was wearing a brown striped jumper with a lilac shirt, a deviation from his standard court uniform, and a dark suit.  Sharon, in her usual black trouser suit had also chosen a mauve blouse – the first and only time they had coordinated during the long and eventful trial.

She had lost the few pounds that had been added to her birdlike frame at her previous court appearance and her hair looked freshly done, though still longer than it had been before her conviction.  Her face was almost free of makeup and the tension was showing.

We started off with a run through of the well known facts.  Chief Inspector John Scanlon took the stand and guided us through the investigation and the famous plot between Lying Eyes and Tony Luciano (see The Story Behind the Book).

Once we’d gone through the facts it was time for the victim impact statements.  Robert and Niall Howard talked about their trauma and shock at such a plot so close to home and their embarrassment at being irrevocably in the public eye.

Then all the heads in the press benches came up as we discovered that not only was PJ going to take the stand but had hired his own counsel and had come to court with a solicitor.  This could only mean one thing…that whatever he had to say was something that the DPP were not going to be madly happy about.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we heard that PJ had prepared a victim impact statement of his own but the DPP weren’t happy about it being read in court as they said it went somewhat beyond the bounds of these kinds of statements, being basically a character reference for the woman he was refusing to give up on.

So we were treated to a spat between PJ and the Gardai, in which PJ said no one had told him he could make a victim impact statement and the gardai said he had known that perfectly well.  PJ took the stand to tell how he had been left out in the cold.  Then Detective Sergeant Michael Moloney took the stand after a brief moment where he passed PJ on his way out of the witness box that showed the businessman’s animosity towards the authorities who had locked his partner away.

As they passed PJ leaned in and growled something under his voice at the Sergeant.  There was obviously no love lost there.

He was eventually allowed to give his statement and read it from the stand.  He sang Sharon’s praises and asked for her to walk free from the court on a suspended sentence.  His pleas would not be successful.

Sharon had a lot of support today, there were character references from the Bishop of Killaloe and the Mayor of Ennis, not to mention an ode to her parenting abilities from her husband Noel.

Ultimately it would all come to nothing though.  She still got six years, only one year less than the infamous Black Widow, Catherine Nevin herself.

Her co-accused Essam Eid, as always somewhat neglected in proceedings in which he had joint billing, had no such support but fared equally.

We heard that the dapper 53-year-old had a serious heart condition and needed long term medical supervision for that and his diabetes.  He was isolated in prison we were told, spending his time alone in his single cell and swapping his poker for Solitaire.

Even so he’s also been given six years, although since he’s been locked up since his arrest in September 2006 he’ll be going home considerably sooner that the Devil in the Red Dress herself.

Sharon was dry eyed when the sentence was handed down but her fingers played with a button on her suit jacket which she held closed protectively over her stomach.  Her bottom lip only began to tremble noticeably while she listened to her co-accused’s fate.

Afterwards there was the usual flurry of reaction and the press pack were rushing around the Four Courts trying to get every piece of the story covered.  A group of use followed PJ to the Law Society photocopier where he provided copies of his statement for our eager hands.

Sharon’s views came through a statement from her solicitor and with them an apology to PJ for the scandalous letter to the Gerry Ryan Show that had been read out in court.  It was incomplete and out of context she said, but stopped short of saying it was a tissue of lies.  PJ for his part had angrily refuted every allegation as part of his statement.

It’s an unfortunate fact that none of that family will ever fade fully into obscurity.  Their proximity to the story has lent them a fascination that will take a long time if ever to dull for the press.  There was a lot of criticism from Sharon’s side about us today.  She pretty much complained that she felt everyone was looking at her – which of course they were today.

So the next thing for me is to finish the book.  It’s nice to see the finishing line in sight at long last, even if I’m going to be contributing to keeping this story alive when the book hits the shelves.  But then – do stories like this ever really die – no matter how much those involved would like them to?

The Story is About to have an End…for now…

Well, tomorrow is the day that Sharon Collins, Essam Eid…and me have been waiting for.  Tomorrow, Mr Justice Roderick Murphy will decide how long they both need to serve in jail and my book will finally have an ending.

It should be an interesting day.  Sharon could be looking at ten years in jail for soliciting Eid to kill PJ Howard and his two sons while Eid isn’t much better off despite the fact the jury failed to reach a decision on the conspiracy charges he was facing.  The extortion he was finally found guilty of carries a pretty hefty sentence itself.

The big question today is whether or not PJ appears to take the stand tomorrow but whether he does or not it’ll be a lively day.

The trial seems so long ago now even though this has been one story that hasn’t left me alone all summer.  Once we know what sentence the two of them get then I can finally write my final chapter and put the thing to bed.

This is one trial that has had never a dull turn and it’s exciting to think what they’ll throw at us tomorrow.  Both defence teams have been preparing medical reports of various types.  Eid has needed examining for a raft of medical conditions while Sharon Collins needed to be seen by two psychiatrists.  It’ll be interesting to see what they both throw up.

After such a long trial and the month’s delay in the sentence it’s a relief to know that there will finally be an end to this – at least until the appeals come around.  But first things first and tomorrow is going to be a very busy day…

An Expected Verdict

After just under four hours of deliberations the jury in the Finn Colclough trial have handed in their verdict.

The courtroom was silent as the registrar took the issue paper from the young female foreman.  The tension in the room was palpable.  Several members of Sean Nolan’s family started to sob silently even before the jury had taken their seats.

The Colclough camp was silent, sitting straighter as the registrar unfolded the yellow paper.  Finn himself sat as he had sat throughout the trial, head down and staring at his hands.  His mother Alix gripped the back of his seat and stared straight ahead while his father Michael sat impassively.

“The jury find the accused, Finn Colclough not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.”

There was silence in the court.  As the judge completed the formalities the two families sat wrapped up in their own thoughts.  The only overt emotion was from Finn’s young friends when they heard he would be spending the weeks until his sentence on December 19th behind bars.

The Nolan family sat quietly.  Even his mother Charlotte, who had seemed so close to tears on many occasion during the trial, was dry eyed at the verdict.

Once Mr Justice Paul Carney climbed down from his high seat everyone stood around quietly.  It was almost eerily calm. The various groups stood around without talking, there was a strange deference in the room.

As usual in these circumstances the press were waiting around to see if anyone would speak to us.  At the midpoint of a Friday afternoon the normally buzzing Round Hall had the leaden calm of a funeral home as people broke off into small groups or wiped away silent tears.  Neither side had any cause to celebrate.  Neither had got the result they had secretly hoped for.

Even the traditional gathering outside the Four Courts was a muted affair.  No one really expected anyone to speak to the press, after all, it will now be almost Christmas before the story has a resolution and it makes more sense to issue a statement when the story has an end of sorts.

But what was extraordinary was the way, when the Nolan family came through the gates of the courts onto the Quays the only sound was the muted clacking of the cameras as photographers stood and took their passing shots and the reporters stood in a mute group, microphones pointed down waiting as the family hurried past them.  No-one stepped forward, no-one tried to speak as if this was a scene that ultimately we simply did not have a say in at this time.

Later, stopping off for an end of work pint after a bitch of a week, I watched Finn being led away from jail on the RTE evening news.  Looking still so young, even though he is now branded a killer in the eyes of the law, he was shown being marched in handcuffs towards the waiting prison van.  His walk seemed to take forever and it was noticeable that the route he was brought was neither the shortest nor the most secluded open to his guards.

It’s been a stressful day but my week I’m sure is nothing compared to the pain both families have and will suffer as a result of this terrible tragedy.

From now on it’s back to my favourite blonde and her Egyptian nemesis as I get ready for the Sharon Collins and Essam Eid sentence on Monday.  It’ll be a weekend chained to the computer but it’s necessary.  It’ll almost be a relief to deal with older subjects next week.  The story of Finn Colclough and Sean Nolan was a horrible, tragic mess that could only leave a bad taste and a sad memory.

At the Starting Line!

Well The Devil in the Red Dress is about to get it’s first public outing!  Tomorrow and Sunday it will be serialised in The Irish Sun and the News of the World!  To find out more about the story…have a look at The Story Behind the Book at the top of the page.  After so long sitting in front of the computer it’s a little strange to see things start to roll but here we go!  The countdown starts from here!

A New Week and a Final Furlong…

Another Monday List…another murder.  Every Monday it’s the same.  We all gather in Court 1 along with a hundred or so members of the public who are there, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to fulfil their jury duty.

Each Monday the trials that are due to start are listed in the Legal Diary to have juries sworn.  There are usually three or four cases set to start, so a jury panel is needed for each one.  The List also deals with legal business so there will be the barristers and solicitors needed for both sides of each case listed.  Not to mention the court reporters.  We turn up every Monday, our notebooks clutched in our hot little hands, to see what we will be doing for the rest of the week.

Court 1 is an old court, like each of the four courtrooms that radiate out from the Round Hall.  It wasn’t built for the kinds of numbers that pack into it at the start of every week.  So it’s standing room only by 10.30, potential jurors having ensconced themselves on every available seat – there’s usually not even anywhere for the accused to sit.

It’s packed and baking hot – no matter what the whether or the time of year.  If you’re unlucky enough to be stuck at the back of the crowd it’s a stifling and confusing experience as unseen barristers mumble unintelligibly at the front of the court room, under the judges bench.  Even if you’re used to it it’s still frustrating as the press of bodies soaks up any sound more than a foot away.

It got too much for one old guy this morning.  As the first team of barristers got to their feet and started mumbling a complicated legal request he piped up from the very back of the courtroom.

“Speak up, we can’t hear you!”

There was a stunned silence for a second and more than a few sympathetic grins.  Mr Justice Paul Carney, who’s generally the ring master in Court 1, raised an eyebrow but told the offending barrister that since it was open court he had better speak up or face the wrath of the public.

There two murders listed this week and they couldn’t be more different.  Stephen Egan is from Coolock and accused of killing a fellow prisoner in Mountjoy Prison.  Then there’s Finn Colclough, the 18-year-old from leafy Waterloo Road in that most illustrious postcode, Dublin 4.  He’s accused of stabbing another teenager to death.  We learnt today that his mother is Dublin’s answer to Delia Smith.

Stephen Egan is pleading not guilty due to diminished responsibility, a plea that was introduced in 2006.  It’s along the lines of guilty but insane and generally doesn’t take long, although the press will be in full attendance.

Then there’s young Finn.  A boy from one of the most affluent suburbs of Dublin will almost certainly guarantee the column inches for as long as his trial lasts, which is expected to be the rest of this week and most of next.

I won’t comment any further until the jury have had a chance to hear what they will have to decide.  But the press do like middle class trials…

I’m covering the teenager.  Then there’s the tax to file and the book to finally finish…I’m looking forward to the second week of November!  Not long now.  Young Master Colclough should bring me up to the Sharon Collins and Essam Eid sentence on November 3rd and an end…the final furlong….

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