IT has been described as an asinine plot worthy of the Coen Brothers. But the storyline of the Ennis hitman for hire trial is certainly not worthy of an Academy award. Instead, the bizarre string of events, characters and curious twists combined to create a tale too farcical for even the most desperate spoof filmmaker.
The proceedings started with the mild-looking, attractive Sharon Collins, a petite 45-year-old Clare woman with a dazzling smile and bubbly personality. Having run a successful furniture business and a number of aerobics classes, the divorced mother-of-two had settled down with a new partner and seemed no different from many other women of her age.
She enjoyed reading, admitting a particular fondness for thriller novels of the kind penned by Dan Brown. Factor in yearly trips to the pilgrimage island of Lough Derg and it creates the image of a very typical modern woman still shaped by traditional values.
So far, so ordinary.
However, when she solicited a Las Vegas hitman over the internet, she set in motion an unbelievable chain of events that would ensnare everyone from formidable looking FBI agents to RTE broadcaster Gerry Ryan.
The investigation, involving countless garda hours and an exhaustive file of evidence, led to a seven-week trial featuring witnesses from Ireland, England and the US.
Tony Luciano was the name of the man behind the website hitmanforhire.com. However, when "Tony" appeared in court, he turned out to be a 52-year-old Egyptian poker dealer by the name of Essam Eid.
His colourful internet website had attracted the attentions of Collins, who hired him to kill her partner PJ Howard and his two sons Robert and Niall in August 2006. Over the course of several email conversations, a deal was cut. The price per person, according to the entrepreneurial "Tony", was US$50,000. However, he offered Sharon a special deal of €90,000.
The enterprising Essam Eid then allegedly began preparations for the killings by sending his wife Teresa -- one of two wives who shared his home in Las Vegas -- to Ennis.
When she and her accomplice Ashraf Gharbeiah failed to carry out the tasks, Eid is accused of taking matters into his own hands and began creating ricin, one of the most powerful poisons known to man. A few internet searches for recipes and the purchase of a bag of castor beans was enough to get things started in their makeshift kitchen laboratory.
Devious Sharon had suggested that the deadly poison could be poured into Robert and Niall Howard's drinks during one of their weekend visits to Kilkee. Thanks to some detailed emails from Sharon, Eid was well aware that the brothers often socialised in the Greyhound bar in the seaside town.
The plan was that PJ Howard, who was holidaying at his Spanish apartment in the summer of 2006, would be informed of the untimely demise of his sons. He would then be so overcome with grief that he would catapult himself from the 14th floor penthouse apartment. Of course, a hitman would be in place to ensure that PJ Howard had some assistance in completing this staged 'suicide'.
And just in case he decided to change his plans along the way, Sharon Collins had informed him in an email that her partner was not the type of man who would slit his wrists.
That sort of action, she said, was far too girly for a man like PJ Howard.
Unfortunately for Sharon Collins, somewhere along the line, the would-be assassin came up with an alternative. Supposedly annoyed when he couldn't contact Sharon, he decided to confront Robert Howard and offer him the chance to buy out the contracts.
Robert Howard didn't put up any cash, instead informing the gardai of the bizarre incident. Soon afterwards, Essam Eid found himself landed into an identity parade at Ennis garda station and ultimately into a cell at Limerick prison.
His partner, Teresa Engle, spent a short time in garda custody before heading off home to Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Sharon Collins continued to live with PJ Howard, who protested her innocence. He even wrote to the DPP to assert his belief that she had been wrongly accused.
The garda investigation continued, with searches uncovering a series of incriminating emails pertaining to the planned hits.
After being questioned by gardai, Sharon Collins was arrested and charged with soliciting Mr Eid and conspiring with him to murder the Howards.
However, what this grand plan needed was a motive. And there certainly was no shortage of reasons for Sharon Collins to want rid of her partner, about 12 million reasons, based on estimates of Mr Howard's vast fortune.