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Saturday 22 July 2017

Mum (31) lured to hotel death by ex using false id, trial told

Single mother-of-one Sonia Blount thought she was meeting a man called Shane Cully at The Plaza Hotel
Single mother-of-one Sonia Blount thought she was meeting a man called Shane Cully at The Plaza Hotel

A former male model allegedly assumed a false identity on social media and lured his ex-girlfriend to a hotel bedroom where he strangled her to death.

Eric Locke (35) has admitted he caused the death of mother-of-one Sonia Blount in a hotel room in Tallaght in February 2014.

He had been in a brief relationship with Ms Blount but it had fizzled out and a court heard he did not take the break-up well.

A jury at the Central Criminal Court has been told by prosecutors that it was going to be asked to concentrate on the mental state of Mr Locke at the time of Ms Blount's death.

Mr Locke, of St John's Park East, in Clondalkin, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Ms Blount at The Plaza Hotel on February 16, 2014.

In his opening address to the jury Remy Farrell, prosecuting, said this case was "not a whodunit" but rather the jury would be asked to concentrate on the mental state of the accused.

Mr Farrell told the court that Ms Blount was a 31-year-old single mother who had a three-year-old boy from a previous relationship.

Suicide

He said she had a brief relationship with Mr Locke in late 2013 lasting a matter of weeks but by early January 2014 that relationship had fizzled out.

Mr Farrell said it appears Mr Locke did not take the break-up very well.

He said it seemed Mr Locke had threatened to commit suicide and had asked for Ms Blount to be contacted.

The court heard Mr Locke continued to send Ms Blount text messages for some period of time after the break-up.

By early February 2014, Mr Farrell said it appeared the situation had calmed down and Mr Locke had accepted the relationship was over.

After the first week of February, Mr Farrell said Ms Blount stopped communicating with Mr Locke.

Specifically, she had blocked him on Facebook.

Mr Farrell said it seems Mr Locke was very unhappy that Ms Blount had done this but from her point of view, there matters lay.

By mid-February 2014, Mr Farrell said Ms Blount had been in contact with a man on Facebook who went by the name of "Shane Cully". The messaging began as banter but developed into more risque and intimate private messaging and the pair later arranged to meet up for a sexual encounter.

Mr Farrell warned the jury it was important for them not to judge and emphasised that Ms Blount was not on trial.

"The chat resulted in an arrangement being made that on the evening of February 15, Sonia Blount would meet Shane Cully in The Plaza Hotel, in Tallaght," he said.

Mr Farrell said February 15, 2014 was an important day for Ms Blount as she held her son's birthday party in Rathfarnham.

She also indicated to family she was going out with a female friend that night.

"She was probably never going out with a friend," he said.

"That may have been cover as she had arranged a secret date with a stranger."

The jury heard that Ms Blount checked into The Plaza Hotel shortly after 9pm.

Shane Cully was going to come along later and Ms Blount arranged that a keycard be left for him at reception.

"Later that evening, somebody did arrive at The Plaza Hotel but it wasn't Shane Cully," said Mr Farrell.

There was no Shane Cully but rather Mr Locke had assumed a false identity and arranged to meet Ms Blount, he told the court.

Mr Farrell said this seemed to have been done for one purpose only - to ensure she was on her own in a hotel room.

He said Mr Locke brought cable ties, masking tape and an airgun to the hotel, which he said, was "brought with the view of dominating, overpowering" the victim.

The jury was told that Ms Blount's body was found later on February 16 lying on the floor of the bedroom.

Dominating

There was a garment in her mouth and she died by asphyxiation and strangulation.

He told the jury that it would hear from a State pathologist who would give evidence that it "takes some time to affect death to someone by that".

Mr Farrell said the accused was later interviewed by gardai and admitted he strangled Ms Blount.

He claimed he did not mean to kill her.

He said Mr Locke told gardai that Ms Blount became upset when she saw the items, that he panicked in some way and strangled her.

Mr Farrell also said the communications between the two were important as they would provide to the jury a digital fingerprint of the arc of the pair's relationship.

He told the court hearing that there would also be evidence of what the accused did in the aftermath of Ms Blount's death as well as details of his movements the next day.

There was also CCTV footage of Mr Locke coming and going from the hotel, as well as images of him dumping something into a drain outside - a mobile phone, which Mr Farrell said had helped gardai to assemble details of the relationship between the two people.

He also told jury members that only they could decide what happened in that hotel bedroom.

The trial opened with evidence from gardai from the Mapping Section.

Staff at The Plaza Hotel have also given evidence of finding Ms Blount's body lying on the floor of room 346.

The court heard that they contacted the owner of the hotel as well as the emergency services.

The trial continues before Mr Justice Michael Moriarty and a jury of eight men and four women.

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