Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

The Men Who Kill Their Wives

It’s been a couple of day since Eamonn Lillis was convicted.  Even though I’ve written on the trial here, on Twitter and in both the Sunday Independent and Hot Press I’ve been glued to the papers over the past few days like everyone else.

With a high profile trial like this, the evidence tends to pass in something of a blur.  The packed courtroom, massive press presence and all the attendant pressures of covering a high profile trial tends to mean that you are fixated with your own copy and nothing else.  It’s only once the verdict is in you can really sit back and see what your colleagues made of the whole thing.

Eamonn Lillis is the latest mild mannered, butter wouldn’t melt man to be sentenced for killing their wives.  He joins the likes of Brian Kearney and David Bourke as a man who others thought to be meek and sweet yet still managed to brutally kill their wives when the marriage didn’t work out.  Granted Lillis does stand apart in this comparison as having been convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter, even though the jury dismissed the options of self defence or provocation in their verdict.

I sat and watched Lillis every day of his trial, just as I had watched, Kearney and Bourke before him, as the brutal death of his wife was laid in front of the court.  I listened to the lies he told gardai, and very possibly the lies he told the court – his story of a slapstick death worthy of silent movie comedy in which he was utterly blameless obviously failed to win over the jury who convicted him of manslaughter after 9 and a half hours of deliberation. 

There’s been a lot of discussion about the significance of the jury’s verdict in this case, the fact the six man and six women arrived at the majority verdict of manslaughter because the prosecution failed to prove the intent necessary for murder.  They had not found him guilty of murder.  They had rejected an acquittal.  They had also been very particular in their choice of manslaughter.  This was a complicated case.  They had a total of six options open to them but they picked that one.  They didn’t think he had been over enthusiastic in his self defence, they didn’t think he had been provoked and they didn’t think he had taken the passive option of copping the extent of his wife’s injuries but leaving her callously to die.

The option the jury chose was essentially “not proven”.  There’s an option open to Scottish juries of “not proven”.  It means that the person walks free but the jury are not totally convinced of his or her innocence.  The prosecution failed to prove their case.  That’s essentially what happened here. The jury in the Eamonn Lillis case decided the prosecution failed to prove the legal definition of murder, that intent must be present.

It would have been difficult to find intent without taking a leap of faith since there was no reliable account of Celine Cawley’s death.  Her husband had lied from beginning to end and even his account from the witness box failed to convince the jury (or they would have acquitted him as acting in pure, justifiable self defence.) 

Yet there are those who are acting as if Lillis was in some way a victim of all this.  Despite the fact he is the latest Dublin wife killer and has been convicted in a court of law, there are those who whisper that maybe he was poorly treated.  This man, who couldn’t stop dropping the designer names when answering garda questions about his wife’s death, who had entered into a sordid affair with a younger woman, who was responsible for his wife’s death and then tried to frame an innocent man for murder is a victim?

What about his wife?

She died at the age of 46, a brutal, sudden death on an ordinary Monday morning.  Then during the trial she was subjected to another attack as her character was savaged by both sides in court.  Celine Cawley was a strong woman, a formidable business woman and undoubtedly wore the trousers in her marriage to a much weaker man but that really doesn’t make her a bad person.  She didn’t kill anyone, she was simply successful in business and had a dominant personality.  There were a lot of different descriptions of Celine in the weekend papers but enough to suggest a human being with different sides.

Just because someone is strong willed does not mean in any way they deserve to die.  Eamonn Lillis was not a worm that turned, but rather a lap dog buoyed up by the lust of a younger woman who fatally bit the hand that fed him.  I might be using a rather provocative turn of phrase here but I’ve seen other men who came across as meek and mild who’ve nevertheless managed to kill.  Eamonn Lillis isn’t the victim here.  He killed someone and has been convicted in a court of law.  If his marriage was unhappy he could always have walked.  Violence is never, ever the answer.

The saddest thing about this trial is that Eamonn Lillis won’t be the last meek wife killer to pass through the Irish courts.  And with cases like this the victim of their aggression is often in some way portrayed as the aggressor, or at the very least the catalyst.  There are hundreds upon thousands of mild mannered men who manage not to kill their bossy, over bearing partners.  Those who do kill deserve to pay.

3 Comments

  1. I found it very curious when the jury in this case requested definitions of ‘manslaughter’, ‘murder’ etc. at the eleventh hour. It was very difficult, then, to believe that he was found guilty of manslaughter when he walked away from his wife instead of taking action that could have saved her.

    It will be very interesting to see how the judge sentences him.

    As in all these types of cases, it is the children of the marriage who suffer most.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  2. What struck me about this case was that, right from the start, his involvement in the death of his wife was beyond question. The evidence was just too strong. The real question to be answered was “was there intent?”, and it seems odd that the prosecution spent comparatively little time answering this question. They spent a lot of time from what I can see bolstering up the case that he killed his wife, but very little time proving any forethought. Or maybe that’s just my reading.

    Thanks for delivering a fascinating account of the trial. The congratulations you have received from the Twitte community is well deserved.

  3. Hi Abigail,
    Great coverage of the trial, I’m sure you must be glad that it’s all over now:)
    Olive

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