Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Tag: Jean Treacy (page 1 of 2)

An Issue of Privacy

The big legal story of the day is definitely the action being taken by convicted serial rapist Michael Murray to safeguard his privacy.

49-year-old Murray, who raped four women in a six day period in 1995, says he has been hounded by the press since his release from prison last year.  He says he can’t take part in any meaningful rehabilitation programme when there are snappers hiding in the bushes wherever he goes and can’t even stay living in the same place.  They say the public has the right to know where a serial sex offender is living.

Today was only the first day of the case so there’ll be a long wait to see what the court rules.  It’ll be a judgement that anyone who covers the courts or crime will be watching with interest.  Crime stories are big news in Ireland.  Covering the big trials over the past few years I’ve grown used to seeing scrums outside the court after a verdict that would rival those usually reserved for Hollywood stars.  Certainly a lot of the more paparazzi shots that appear in the papers are to do with crime lords rather than movie stars. 

I’d be out of work if that interest wasn’t there but when it comes to privacy there’s a whole different can of worms.  When photographers chase musicians or actresses they’re chasing people who signed up for the chase.  Sudden celebrity might come as a shock but if you do something that requires you to perform in front of (hopefully) large crowds it kind of goes with the territory.

Those who commit crimes don’t tend to do it for an audience.  They might crave some form of notoriety through their actions but it’s not really the same thing.  Yet once they’ve been identified and especially once they’ve been caught and tried, they become a rather magnetic news story.  This newsworthiness isn’t something that will fade with their looks.  Once they’re convicted they are indelibly linked to their crime.  If the crime was awful, tragic or extravagant then public interest in it will remain and so will journalistic interest.

Take Wayne O’Donoghue for example.  Convicted in 2006 to four years for the manslaughter of his 11-year-old neighbour Robert Holohan, O’Donoghue was released from prison in February 2008 after serving three years.  It had been a trial that hit all the front pages and passed into legal history when his mother Majella made certain allegations in her victim impact statement. Because of these comments this is a trial that tends to be raised any time there’s a discussion about victim impact statements and it remains fresh in the public mind.

Wayne O’Donoghue left the country after his release but as recently as this January the Sunday World ran a story about his new girlfriend.  Joe O’Reilly’s girlfriend Nicki Pelley has been a regular tabloid fixture, photographed every now and then because she stuck by the man who was convicted of the brutal murder of his wife Rachel.

As long as the names of those convicted sell papers when they appear on the front page the press will keep their interest.  That’s how newspapers work.  When Sharon Collins, the subject of my first book Devil in the Red Dress, is released from jail the photographers will be waiting to see if her proposed victim PJ Howard is waiting to whisk her off to some Spanish villa.  When Eamonn Lillis (subject of the latest book) has served his time there’ll be those wanting to see what he does next.  There’ll probably also be those who are curious to see whether his former mistress Jean Treacy gets the Italian wedding she was planning while she was cheating on her fiancé with Lillis.  The list goes on and on.

This is the nature of news.  If something’s a story it’s a story.  It might not be pleasant for those caught in the crosshairs but that’s the way it works.  It may seem sordid or even rather repellent but these stories have been filling newspapers as long as there have been newspapers.  But however you feel about the examples I’ve given what about those who have committed the really, really bad stuff…like Michael Murray, who raped four women in less than a week and whose own counsel describes as an “abnormal risk to the community”? 

He served time for his crimes, his debt to society as decided by the courts.  Is he entitled to privacy?  A quick Google throws up some of the stories that obviously caused offence, stories of day trips to Bray, security alerts.  When you look at the results Google throws up it certain gives the impression that he has had very little time since his release when he wasn’t being watched by a press posse.  He’s not the first to receive this treatment but depending on the outcome of this case he could be one of the last. 

These are the stories that lead to calls for a sex offenders register, for the public to have more, not less information about who lives close to them.  But privacy is the right of every individual and that causes a problem.  It’s going to be very interesting indeed to see how the Michael Murray case works out.  I’m sure it won’t be the last time I post on the subject.

The Lure of a Dangerous Man

Eamonn Lillis hit the front pages again today.  The Sun were running a story about the letters he’s allegedly been receiving in jail.  It seems extraordinary that there are women out there who would set their cap at a man convicted of killing his wife but I don’t know why I’m surprised.  It’s an age old story.

Lillis is actually one of the better prospects out there.  He was convicted of manslaughter so he’ll be out in a few years and when he gets out he’ll be returning to a €2 million nest egg from his share of the sale of the company Celine Cawley set up, Toytown Films and his wife’s estate.  But the fact remains that he killed his wife, and he was cheating on her at the time of his death.  He’s hardly the kind of guy that makes prime marriage material.  He was described during the trial as a lap dog, a meek and mild  mannered man who was very much in his wife’s shadow.  He’s not the obvious sexy bit of rough, the romantic bad boy that stops women in their tracks.  Sitting in court watching him on the stand, his lips primly pursed, his delivery clipped and almost mousily quiet he faded into the background of the court.

Granted we were told during the trial that he could be a charmer when he wished to be, we all saw his mistress Jean Treacy sashay the length of the courtroom to give her evidence, the much younger women who told of racing pulses and passionate trysts in supermarket carparks.  We had all seen the pictures of his wife when she was a young model, a stunning brunette who could have had any man she chose.  But the Lillis we saw in court wasn’t a romantic charmer. 

He was a grey little man who nervously bit his lip when the evidence seemed damning; whose “excuse me” when  faced with a gaggle of hacks at the end of the day was almost a whisper; who had to be told repeatedly while giving his evidence to raise his voice as the jury couldn’t hear him.  The image of the man who wasn’t there is born out by school friends who describe a quiet child and even his close friends speaking at his sentencing described his strength as his ability to listen. So not the Byronic tortured anti hero then, at best the worm that turned.  Yet there are those whose desire has been awakened who will write him love letters to read in his prison cell.

These aren’t letters from an existing paramour, we’re not talking about the continuing devotion of a mistress, like Nicki Pelley’s faith in convicted wife murderer Joe O’Reilly, or even the ever faithful PJ Howard, the stoutest champion of the Devil in the Red Dress herself, Sharon Collins, despite the fact she tried to hire a hitman to off his and his two sons.  No, Lillis’s admirers have probably never met the man they fancy.  They’re that strange breed who court convicted killers.

Maybe it’s the sparkle of celebrity that makes them want to get close to the man who spawned so many headlines, maybe they’re danger seekers who want to grab the tiger by the tail, maybe it’s another reason, sadder and darker altogether, that this is the best they can hope for, a relationship indelibly tainted before it’s even begun.

We’ve all seen the stories from the States, the death row weddings, the sacks of mails for serial killers.  We don’t have those kinds of killers here.  Murder in Ireland tends to be a much more domestic affair so maybe Eamonn Lillis is the best of a bad lot. I’m sure he’s not the only high profile wife killer to get these letters and he certainly won’t be the last. As a species we are fascinated with death – I would be out of a job if that wasn’t true.  The high profile murder trials always attract the largest crowds, this is just an extension of that.  I spend too much of my time sitting in courtrooms to share the fascination though.  I wonder what Lillis thinks of the letters.  We’ll probably never know.

Now that the Dust has Settled

It’s been a hectic start to the year.  Since January 11th almost every waking hour has been taken up with the Eamonn Lillis trial.  I’ve covered it for the Sunday Independent and for Hot Press.  I’ve written about it here and on Twitter. I’m not the only one.  Pretty much every journalist in Dublin who covers the courts has been totally obsessed with the lives of Eamonn Lillis, Celine Cawley and Jean Treacy.

It happens every time there’s a big trial, the kind where newsdesks devote daily double page spreads to each days evidence, the kind we’ve been having once or twice a year since the flood gates opened with the criminal extravaganza that was the Joe O’Reilly trial.  I’m not getting into whether or not the media pay too much attention to big trials, after all it’s what I do for a living, but covering one like the Lillis trial is an all consuming experience.

I’ve covered courts on both sides of big trials.  When the O’Reilly trial was going on I had the job of covering every other murder that took place in that three week period.  It was a busy time, although you wouldn’t have known it from your daily paper.  Every day of the O’Reilly trial there was at least one other murder trial going on.  I covered all of them (luckily none of them actually ran at the same time as each other although there were one or two overlaps).

It’s a little surreal covering a trial when there’s something like the Joe Show going on next door.  There were days when even the accused seemed more interest ted in what was going on on the other side of the Round Hall than the evidence that was coming up in his own trial.  Maybe it’s because of the circumstances, or because I was still fairly new to the job, but I can still remember the names of the accused in each of those trials.  It might also have been because all three trials were acquittals, which don’t happen that often.

There was the taxi driver’s son acquitted of murder after he had been the subject of an unprovoked attack while he was walking his dogs.  Then there was the two traveller guys accused of attempting to murder another fella.  When they were acquitted the chief prosecution witness was one of those waiting outside the courts who lifted the freed men cheering onto their shoulders.  During that trial, the defence insisted the jury see a wall that featured heavily in the prosecution’s case so we all went on a junket to the estate.  The locals all came out of their houses to see what on earth was going on and Mr Justice Paul Carney posed for photographs.

Then there was the trial where the chief prosecution witness seemed to know a lot more than he let on.  Something the jury obviously picked up on as they acquitted the accused despite two days of particularly damning testimony from the witness.

I’ve been thinking about those weeks on and off this week because I suddenly realise that there were a lot of things I was supposed to be keeping an eye on that I’ve written about on this blog.  Ann Burke for example, the 56-year-old mother from Laois, who was convicted of the manslaughter of her abusive husband before Christmas.  I wrote about the trial here so I won’t recap but she was supposed to be sentenced during the Lillis trial.  I noticed several people have arrived at this blog looking for information on the sentencing so I checked it out.  As it turned out I didn’t miss it with all the Lillis circus.  Her sentencing has been deferred until March 22nd so I’ll keep an eye out.

Another one that’s pending is the result of Finn Colclough’s appeal.  Finn was convicted back in December 2008 of the manslaughter of Sean Nolan.  The trial got a fair bit of attention, partly because it happened on Waterloo Road in posh Dublin 4 and partly because Finn’s mother Alix Gardener was a TV chef.  I’ve written about it at length here as well so I won’t recap more than that.  Anyway, the ruling was deferred before Christmas and as yet there’s been no word.  Again I’ll write a post when there’s a judgement.  It looks like it might be an interesting one.

Now that the dust has settled there’s time to catch up on all the stories I missed.  I don’t think Lillis has gone away but at least there are no more crowds and things are getting more back to normal.

And We’re Back to The Subject of Sentences

No this isn’t a writing related post, I’m not talking those kind of sentences.  I’m talking about the sentences handed down by Irish courts, the Central Criminal Court in particular and Eamonn Lillis’s sentence to be specific.

Since he was given seven years on Friday the papers and the airwaves have been full of condemnation of judge Barry White’s sentence.  I agree that seven years, or six years and eleven months to be precise, isn’t a lot for the taking of a human life but it’s not an unusual length for a manslaughter sentence in the Irish courts.

I’ve written here before about the need for more severe minimum sentences for crimes  like manslaughter and rape but it’s an ongoing problem. 

When I was asked on Twitter what I thought the sentence was going to be on Friday morning I said that I thought it would be in the area of seven to ten years.  I was going by what I’d seen in previous trials and knowledge of the judge involved.  As it turned out Mr Justice White said that he considered the correct sentence to be ten years, but reduced it on considering mitigating factors – chief of which appeared to be the level of media scrutiny Lillis can expect when he gets out of jail.

I’m not going near the whole media as mitigation thing.  We do our job and Eamonn Lillis, or for that matter Jean Treacy, would not have been of interest if he hadn’t killed his wife.  That’s the way it works.  Newspapers wouldn’t waste the ink if stories like this didn’t sell papers.  While I’ll admit that some of my colleagues might fan the flames of interest quite strenuously, they, or for that matter myself, would not be concerned with this kind of story if it didn’t pay the bills.  As a species we are fascinated with our own kind.  Crime allows us greater access to the workings of people’s lives and minds than we get in the normal paths of our daily lives.  But I’m going off the point, this post is about sentences.

A lot of people are saying that Eamonn Lillis got what is perceived as a light sentence because he is rich.  His route through life might have been eased by money but when it comes to the courts it generally makes very little difference.  I’ve seen people at both ends of the social spectrum have the book thrown at them, for different reasons and I’ve seen sympathy shown just as diversely.

Finn Colclough, from Waterloo Road in Dublin, was given ten years for the manslaughter of Sean Nolan but it’s not just those with posh addresses.  In April 2008 21-year-old Limerick student Jody Buston was sentenced to a mere 6 years for stabbing a pensioner in the heart after wandering into his house and mistaking the old man for a ghost.  The year before three Limerick teenagers who had intentionally run over apprentice electrician Darren Coughlan after mistaking him for someone else were given a maximum of seven years.  Finally in November last year the first person to be convicted in the new criminal courts complex at Parkgate Street was sentenced to ten years for stabbing a man outside a Galway pub.

If sentences are too short in the Irish court system it’s generally not due to some partiality of judges or an old boys club of partiality in terms of the accused, it’s because that’s the way the law is.  It’s even worse when it comes to rapes.  I’ve written here before about the Court of Criminal Appeal overturning the life sentence handed down to Philip Sullivan who raped two small boys.  It’s a problem throughout the system and one, certainly that needs to be changed.

But shouting about it because of perceived social inequality is missing the point and allowing for the wider issue to be ignored.  Eamonn Lillis didn’t get seven years because he’s a millionaire, he got it because that was what he was always going to get if convicted of manslaughter.  The fault is with the system on this one, not the individual judges.

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.

The Waiting Begins

The jury started their deliberations at 2.29 this afternoon.  It’s only a matter of time now until Eamonn Lillis hears his fate and the Cawley family hear what will happen to the man accused of killing Celine Cawley.

Jury waits are always tedious.  There’s never anything to do.  Well that’s not strictly true. When the jury goes out is the moment when most of the press benches are galvanised into action and start seriously working on their final verdict copy.  If you’re writing for a daily there are usually two or three versions of the story, one for each outcome.  It’s not quite so labour intensive if you work for a Sunday paper (unless the verdict comes on a Saturday afternoon of course) but the final wrap is a massive task nonetheless.

So the cables snake over to the plug sockets on the now empty barristers bench, the sweet papers accumulate on the press benches and the quiet of the almost empty courtroom is filled with the rustling of notebook pages.  For everyone else it’s a matter of waiting.  It’s the first time there’s been a big wait in the new Criminal Courts of Justice and there’s been much discussion about whether the benches in the Four Courts were more or less arse numbing than the hard edged, pale wooden planks that cut off the circulation in the backs of your legs if you’re unfortunate to get yourself into the wrong position.

The format at this stage of a trial is always the same.  The jury retires after the Judge’s charge and the prosecution and defence teams have the opportunity to tell the judge what they think he missed out or failed to emphasise.  Then the jury get called back and the charge is updated.  This process took rather a long time today.  It was almost half past three when they were called back.

Mr Justice Barry White clarified a couple of legal and factual points as he had been asked to do and told the jury again that it was up to them alone to determine the facts in this case.  He told them that they should not feel he was trying to impose his will on them or that he was subtly hinting at a preferred verdict.  He neither carried the sword for the prosecution nor the shield for the defence, he told them.

So the jury resumed their deliberations and the waiting began again.  In the Four Courts there is a constant creaking and knocking, as you would expect in an old building.  You spend half the wait on tenterhooks every time you think you hear a knock on the door that leads to the jury room.

Things are different in the new court house.  The floors are carpeted, the building new and creak free. Then there’s the jury wrangler, he’s not called that but you get the general idea.  He’s there to look after the jury and so this afternoon, a little after four he appeared with a folded piece of paper.

The jury had a question.

Well actually they had a shopping list of items of evidence to help them in their deliberations.  They wanted a tape of the 999 call Mr Lillis made and a tape recorder to play it, the statements Jean Treacy and Mr Lillis’s daughter gave to gardai, the Rip Curl bag gardai found in the attic at Rowan Hill, filled with Mr Lillis’s bloodstained clothes and the bloodstained clothes found in Mr Lillis’s bedroom.  They also wanted the transcript of Mr Lillis’s evidence in court and the report given by Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis.

It’s never a simple list with juries.  Half the things they requested were off limits, others logistically complicated.  The jury had asked for the original garda statements given by Jean Treacy and the daughter.  They weren’t evidence so the request was denied, although they have the option of listening back to the evidence they gave in court.  They also asked for the transcript of Mr Lillis’s evidence – something only the judge has access to.

So they were sent home for the night.  Before we reconvene tomorrow morning the courts services will decide whether or not there is portable access to the 999 call or the recordings of the evidence given in court by Ms Treacy, Mr Lillis, his daughter and Dr Curtis.  If the jury can’t listen back in their room we’ve a long day ahead of us while they listen back in the courtroom.

So the wait will continue tomorrow.  Mr Lillis will have longer to wait to hear his fate.

The Closing Stages

Eamonn Lillis will know his fate by the end of the week.  Today the jury in his trial for the murder of his wife Celine Cawley heard closing speeches from both prosecution and defence counsel and Judge, Mr Justice Barry White has started his charge.

They’re expected to start deliberating sometime tomorrow.  They’ll have a lot to consider. 

Prosecution counsel Mary Ellen Ring SC told the jury that Eamonn Lillis was an opportunistic killer who had seized on the chance to end an unhappy marriage when the row erupted with his wife on the morning of December 15th 2008.  She told the jury that the only verdict they should come back with was guilty of murder.

The defence are looking for an acquittal.  Defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC pointed out that the prosecution case simply didn’t hold up and told the jury that they needed to think about why a so-called opportunistic killer would only use moderate force when dealing the fatal blows, leaving Celine to suffocate to death.

The jury also have the option of manslaughter.  Or rather the options.  Judge White told them this afternoon that to come back with this verdict they would have to all agree on one of the possibilities. 

The first was that Eamonn Lillis had acted in self defence when attacked by his wife with a brick.  This would normally mean an acquittal but if the jury consider that he used excessive force the verdict is manslaughter.

The second option is that they think Eamonn Lillis is guilty of criminal negligence, in leaving his injured wife to die on the decking without calling the emergency services in time.  This also carries a manslaughter verdict.

Then there’s the option of provocation.  If the jury think that Eamonn Lillis was pushed to such an extent he snapped and wasn’t in control of his actions.  Again this is manslaughter.

Judge White has been running through the evidence of the trial this afternoon.  He pointed out that Mr Lillis lied about the masked burglar, even voluntarily embellishing his lie and clinging to it even when given several opportunities to come clean.  He said Mr Lillis had also lied to gardai about what clothes he was wearing even when his own bloodstained clothes were found in a suitcase in the attic.  It will be up to the jury whether they accept his comments.

Judge White also asked the jury whether they considered Mr Lillis’s affair with Jean Treacy to be a fling or something deeper.  He pointed to the note found in Mr Lillis’s bedroom that talked about running out of time.  He also highlighted mobile phone traffic between Mr Lillis and Ms Treacy which shows a marked increase of communication between November 2008 and December.  He asked the jury whether they considered this indicative of a fling or something deeper.

Judge White will finish his charge in the morning and the jury will consider their verdict.  We’ll all be waiting to see what they make of the case.

Based on a True Story

On his second day in the witness box Eamonn Lillis was talking fiction.  He was being cross examined on the note gardai found in his bedroom, the note that sounded suspiciously like the story of his affair with Jean Treacy and the words of a man angst ridden at his place in a love triangle.

This was not the case, Mr Lillis was adamant.  It was a treatment for a film script he had been working on.  He had been working on a script for ages, he had notes and journals to prove it. His idea was based on a true story but it was fiction and the note was fiction too, even if it did use real names.

Mr Lillis proceeded to weave a rather chaotic account of his idea.  It had been sparked by a project they had been filming for Irish Permanent, he said.  The film crew had been in place filming a bank robbery and a passer by thought they were filming a reconstruction for Crime Line.  That was the spark, he said.  He had thought, wouldn’t it be a good story to have a film crew filming a robbery but they really were robbing the place.

What about the note, prosecution counsel Mary Ellen Ring wanted to know.  That was based on the situation he found himself in but it was just fiction as well, he told her.  He had woken one night at about three or four in the morning and the idea had come to him.  It would have made a good simple script.  He had left the note where he could find it to bring into the office and work on it there.  It was about two characters who were running out of time…it bore no relation to persons living or dead, or at least to what had happened later.

Mr Lillis denies murdering his wife, Celine Cawley at their home in Howth on December 15th 2008.  Today he denied hitting her three times with a brick.  Ms Ring pointed out that two of the head wounds Celine had when she died were horizontal, as if made with a brick, rather than vertical as would be expected if she had hit her head of the living room window in a struggle as Mr Lillis had said.  Mr Lillis replied emphatically “That’s not true.”

Today was the final day of evidence.  Tomorrow will start with the closing speeches of prosecution and defence and then it will be up to Judge Barry White to summarise the evidence for the jury and charge them to begin their deliberations.  The courtroom was packed today, as it has been every day of the trial.  Dozens of members of the public squashed into the limited standing room in Court 19.  One watcher had even brought his guide dog, which narrowly avoided being trampled as it lay patiently through the proceedings.

It’s been a while since there was a trial like this. And it will be a while until there’s another one.  I sincerely hope the ghoulish curiosity of some of the more lascivious rubber neckers is sufficiently sated.

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

There was an excited hush in the courtroom this morning as Eamonn Lillis made his way to the stand.  The accused is not obliged to take the stand in his defence and the jury are not allowed to pass any judgement on whether he does or not but as a journalist it’s always a good day when they take the short walk from their habitual seat (which isn’t a dock) to the witness stand.

Since there have been so many different accounts of Celine Cawley’s final moments during the two weeks of her husband’s trial everyone was eager to hear the account that came out of the horse’s mouth.

He told the court that he  had met Celine in 1990 at the advertising awards festival held every year in Kinsale.  At the time he was working as an advertising artistic director, she in a film production company.  She had arranged for Jack Charlton to come and manage the Irish football team in the friendly game the festival was holding – Ireland against the rest of the world.  He had signed up to play.  They met and clicked.  Both of them had German shepherds and, as he would with Jean Treacy 18 years later, he fell for a woman who shared his love of dogs.

Back in Dublin they continued to meet and after a relatively brief romance they were married the following year.  Their daughter was born a year into their marriage and they would become wealthy from the production company Celine had started Toytown Films.

He told the court that the day Celine died had started ordinarily enough.  He had woken at about 6.45 that morning, got up and done his customary morning exercises.  He went downstairs, let the dogs out and put the kettle on.

He brought cups of tea to his daughter and to Celine and got in beside his wife, in the downstairs bedroom she used, for “a kiss and a cuddle”.  He explained that it was normal for them to sleep apart.  “We were both tricky people to sleep with. Celine snored, so do I”.  The practise had started when their daughter was a baby to ensure that at least one of them had a decent night’s sleep.

That morning they watched television together for about 40 minutes than he went back upstairs for a shower and to get dressed.  He told the court that when he came back down Celine was in the kitchen making lunch for their daughter and putting the breakfast together.  He had breakfast then dropped his daughter to school.

The tranquillity of the morning continued until he returned from taking the dogs for a walk he said.  Celine was in the kitchen cleaning out the ice trays from the fridge.  She was wearing rubber gloves.  She asked him whether he wanted a cup of tea but he said no, he would go and clear the garden of dog poo first.  He told the court he got an old pair of gloves and headed outside.

Celine asked him whether he had remembered to put out meal worms for the robin.  He hadn’t.  She angrily replied that was just “bloody typical” and things degenerated from there.  They started to “hurl abuse at each other”.  Mr Lillis said he had walked out onto the decking to continue what he was going to do and Celine followed him to continue the row.

He told prosecution counsel Mary Ellen Ring that his wife could be very sarcastic.  “It wasn’t the food for the robin it was the fact she had asked me to do something and I hadn’t done it.”

Mr Lillis said once his wife followed him outside the row got worse.  She started asking him why he hadn’t been out chasing work for the production company.  He said he told her there was no work out there.  It was the middle of a recession.

He said that Celine told him he didn’t care about her or their daughter.  He told her she was only interested in her own image as superwoman.  “She didn’t appreciate stuff she already had.”  She also didn’t appreciate all the things he did around the house.

He said he didn’t see her fall.  He had his back to her.  But he saw her get up and when she did she was rubbing the back of her head.  As she stood up she picked up a brick from the ground.

Mr Lillis said he went over to see if she was ok but she thrust the brick at him.  He was still angry and grabbed it out of her hand.

He said he turned away again and she came after him saying again that it was “just typical” of him to walk out on a row.  He went back to her and shoved the brick at her telling her to “shove it where the sun doesn’t shine”. He said he was jabbing her on the shoulder with his finger as they argued.

He said Celine then grabbed the brick out of his hand and hit him with it.  He thought it had marked him on the chin.  He tried to grab the brick again and she pulled her arm away.  He said this was when he pulled the nail off his wedding ring finger.

In anger he shoved her back against the living room window.  She cried out but he couldn’t tell whether this was because she had hurt herself or was screaming at him.  This would have been the screams that neighbour heard at 9.35.

The struggle continued until he slipped on the decking.  He fell to his knees, forcing Celine off balance.  She fell onto her back, banging her head off the deck.  the brick was no longer in her hand.

He said he went to get up and she bit the little finger on his right hand and wouldn’t let go.  Mr Lillis said his wife was shaking her head back and forward as she bit so he pushed her forehead away then pushed her head to the ground until she let go.  Mr Lillis said the row stopped.  They were both shocked by what had happened.  He said he suggested they tell their daughter they had both been injured in a robbery.  She said ok.

He said Celine seemed quiet and dazed but sat up.  He saw blood on her head but not much.  He commented that his wife had very thick hair.  He got her to lay her head on his lap.  “I was just looking after her the way I always had.”  She stayed there for a second then sat up again.

He went in to the kitchen and came out with kitchen towels and a tea towel which he gave her to mop up the blood, then he gathered everything up, the gloves he had dropped, the wet rubber gloves she had been wearing, and the kitchen towels and took them inside.

He went straight into the living room and took some camera equipment, the same kind of stuff that had been taken when they were burgled around 18 months before.  Then he brought the camera stuff and the bin bag upstairs and got changed.

He decided his outer clothes were too bloodstained to be washed so he put them in the rubbish bag but put his shoes and t-shirt back in the wardrobe.  He said he then put the plastic bag and the camera stuff into a small suitcase and put it in the attic, which was open as they had been taking down Christmas cards.

When he came back down he went to find Celine and saw her collapsed on the decking.  He said he lied to the emergency services because it was what they had agreed and he didn’t want Celine to wake up and give a different account.

Once he had told a lie, he said, he felt he couldn’t take it back.  He felt “boxed in” by family and friends and trapped into his lie.

Mr Lillis will be back on the stand on Monday.

A Difference of Opinion

We were back to the forensics today.  Assistant State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis took the stand to tell the jury his findings from the autopsy of Celine Cawley.

We’ve heard various different scenarios for what happened on December 15th 2008.  We know that the account Eamonn Lillis gave of his wife’s death to gardai, emergency services and members of his wife’s family was a lie.  At the start of the trial last week Mr Lillis’s defence counsel Brendan Grehan stood up at informed the jury that Mr Lillis admitted that his account of a violent attack by a brick wielding burglar was a complete fabrication.

The fictional burglar has made a number appearances over the course of the trial but we’ve all been waiting to the alternative account of events that Mr Lillis said his solicitor advised him not to tell.

Then yesterday his former mistress Jean Treacy took the stand.  She told the court that Mr Lillis had told her how he had fought with his wife and in the struggle that followed she slipped on the frosty decking outside the spacious house in Howth and cracked her head on a cobble brick left over from paving the patio.

Today Mr Lillis’s daughter gave a very similar account.  Speaking through a video link from a room in another part of the court complex the 17-year-old recounted the account her father had given her of her mother’s death.

She had seen him after he was released from remand in jail.  She had spent the Christmas and New Year in Austria but it had been “the world’s worst Christmas” for her.  She told the court that her father had told her he and Celine had scuffled during an argument about putting meal worms out for the local robin and she had slipped.

She said her father told her he had panicked after his wife had died and lied.  “He did it for me but I didn’t really appreciate that he did it.”  She said that she had forgiven her father for what had happened but not for the lie.  “I asked me could I forgive him and I said yes but I couldn’t really forgive him for the lie.”

Eamonn Lillis sat with his eyes fixed on his daughter’s face as she gave her evidence.  It was the first time in the trial he had looked up for the majority of a witness’s evidence but this morning it looked as though he had more difficulty looking away.

She told the court that her father had told her her mother had hit him with the brick she had hit her head on and had bitten his finger.

This afternoon we heard another possible sequence of events.  Dr Michael Curtis told the court that he doubted that the wounds Celine Cawley had received to her head were all the result of a fall.  One wound, on the back right side of the head, could have been but the other two, one toward the front on the left above the ear, the other towards the top of the head on the right side were in unusual positions for this kind of cause.

He said that he did not think the account given by Jean Treacy was plausible, especially a reference to Celine falling then bouncing back up like a beach ball.  He told the court “In my opinion that account does not in any way sufficiently explain the injuries of the deceased.”

He went on to say “I don’t think she suffered the three wounds from a single fall and I don’t think that she fell three times and I think two of these wounds are in positions that are not typical of scalp wounds caused by falls.”

Dr Curtis said that in his opinion Celine Cawley had been hit with a blunt implement to the front of the head causing her to fall onto her face.  She was then hit two further times to the back of the head causing scrapes and bruises to her face.  He said that the weapon would have been wielded with only moderate force.

These head injuries would have resulted in concussion and loss of consciousness but there was no internal bleeding in the skull and no skull fractures.  The cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma to the head but also obesity and an enlarged heart which had meant that, with her breathing restricted from her position she would have suffered oxygen starvation and this too had caused her death.

He told the court that her injuries taken individually would not necessarily be fatal and that her life could have been saved if she had received prompt medical attention.

Dr Curtis disagreed when Brendan Grehan suggested that he could not speculate on how the wounds were delivered or in what order.  He said that he had been told by gardai that Ms Cawley was discovered lying face down and this meant that the wound to the front of the skull would have had to be dealt first.

He agreed that if Ms Cawley had not been lying on her front his theory would have been weakened.  He said that blood spatter on the wall near the living room window could either have come from a wound or a blood soaked weapon.  Any further analysis, he said, was the work of a forensic scientist not a pathologist.

The trial continues tomorrow.

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