Today Death on the Hill is officially published. You probably won’t find it in the shops just yet – it usually takes a couple of days for book stocks to move from warehouse to shop floor. Which makes a publication day rather peculiar.
I’ve had my author copies of Death on the Hill for a while now. They’re sitting in a neat row in our front room and every now and then I go and take a look at them – I still get a kick out of seeing my name on the spine of a real, live book with pages and everything. I’m excited about seeing copies in bookshops but publication day itself is a marker in time that’s even more confusing than a mid life birthday.
You wake up and the morning is the same as the one before. When I was a child dreaming of being a writer I thought there would at least be streamers. The appearance of a book in print with your name on it would signify an end to the normal daily grind and an emergence into the artistic realm like a butterfly emerging from it’s chrysalis. I was a rather romantic child.
The reality is generally rather more prosaic. Today I got up at the usual time and headed off to court. There’s a new murder trial starting this week and there were several cases in the Monday list that I wanted to keep an eye on. Then I went grocery shopping. Life goes on.
In the days and weeks to come things will get busy. There’ll be interviews to do, publicity. I’ll start haunting book shops and counting their stock and fretting about sales figures. I’ll be pestering everyone I know to buy, or read, or review and shouting about the book from every available rooftop. This evening though it’s my publication day. A moment in time where the one thing that matters is that the book is written. It’s real and will very, very soon be coming to book shops all over Ireland. That’s something to be pleased about.
Congrats on the new book. I read your first one and really enjoyed it. I will probably pick up this one too, although I’m not sure how many more tales of men murdering their beloveds I can handle.
Hi Abagail, I read your blogs avidly during the Lillis trial, and I also read your book within a couple of hours … and though most of it makes an interesting story, I resent that story. Because 50% of your book was based on the FAIRY TALE that Lillis fabricated during his trial … This trial makes a total sham of our legal system – let me explain: Lillis killed his wife by three blows to the head -which bled so profusely that the blood soaked into his underpants and on to his skin – he, left her unconscious on the patio and changed and hid his clothes, he washed and composed himself and then called the emergency services – by which time she was dead. When the Gardai arrived he fabricated a story about an intruder – he re-told, embellished and stood by that story for 5 days, without flinching, and under intense Gardai and familial suspiscion, while living with Celines brother and family. He was charged with his wifes murder and continued with the story – he lied in legal statements, to friends, family – his own daughter and the Gardai investigated this incredible story. They put together a case, based on this fairy tale and presented the book of evidence to Lillis and his team sometime in mid 2009. He realised the game was up and then had about 6 months to concoct a story which matched the forensic and pathology evidence down to a ‘T’ (I poked her in the shoulder – Oh … that explains the bruise on her right shoulder!!!) that would get him a lesser conviction.
When this case came to court – his clever defense and his amazing ability to lie came back into the fore. Everything he said under oath, was amazingly accepted by the court and jury, even though there were obvious discrepancies – this man; who was an obvious fantasist and liar, was suddenly a soft spoken, gentleman who got into an argument with his wife that got out of hand? The prosection, hearing this new evidence from Lillis for the very first time, and who had spent a year putting the finishing touches to a case which was then turned on its head by Lillis and his team on the very first day – giving them no time or opportunity to question his ‘new’ version of events.
This is a very clever, manipulative, lying, killer. He and his legal team have made fools of our judicial system. He should. at least,also have been charged with perverting the course of justice, lying under oath and wasting Gardai time and resources.
He is sitting in prison – his legal team should be ashamed to have pulled this fast one on the Irish judicial system – and we, as a nation – should dismiss anything that came out of that mans mouth.
Thanks for your comment. I’ve had to edit it slightly for legal reasons but I’ll do my best to reply to every point you’ve made whether they remain or not. Your view is shared by a lot of people I’ve spoken to over the past few months, I know there’s a perception that Lillis got an easy ride but having sat through the trial, and many others over the past few years, I can say, hand on heart, that given the case put before the jury, the manslaughter verdict was the outcome most observers were expecting.
I can understand your anger about the story Lillis made up but it had to be included in any account of the case since it was a major part of the evidence brought up in court. The prosecution, despite the admissions that Lillis’s legal team at the opening of the trial, continually referred to the fabricated burglar as a vivid example of Lillis’s ability to tell lies.
After listening to all this evidence the jury came to the decision that the prosecution had not proved that Lillis had intended to kill his wife and so came back with the manslaughter verdict.
As to what happened and how Celine Cawley came by the injuries she had at her death, we only have the various accounts Lillis gave to gardai, the court, his daughter and to Jean Treacy. The blows to the head did bleed copiously (scalp wounds always do, even relatively minor ones) but there were no underlying skull fractures and deputy State Pathologist Michael Curtis acknowledged that only moderate force would have been needed to inflict the wounds. They’re still nasty wounds, in all probability inflicted with a brick in the hand of her husband but didn’t cause as much damage as they could have.
Lillis’s legal team, lead by one of the most experienced defence counsel in the state Brendan Grehan, provided a service that’s available to any man or woman accused of a crime in Ireland. We have a criminal justice system based around the presumption of innocence and they were just doing their jobs within the law. People accused of a crime often tell lies, for any number of reasons. It’s not necessarily an guilt of guilt whatever it’s status in this particular case. The jury could only come to their verdict according to the evidence presented to them. There are dozens of laws governing what evidence can be put forward and how it is presented.
I totally understand the way you feel, and you are of course absolutely free to have your own opinion and to share that in public. Unfortunately, as a court reporter and writer of this blog I’m bound by certain rules and have to stay within them. This can sometimes limit what I can say here and what I can allow to be posted. This can seem unfair or disingenuous but they’re the laws of the country we live in. For the most part the judicial system we have works and the alternatives are frequently worse than what we have. Unfortunately if the law is constructed to protect the innocent it must also protect the guilty. All you can do is trust the DPP to make their case and the jury to come to the right verdict. In this case, on the balance of everything, I think justice was served but there’s always going to be a difference between the law of the land and what we feel in our guts should be the way of things.
Thanks for your response Abigail. It surprises me that you say that the manslaughter verdict was widely expected, because one of the things that I still can’t understand about this trial is how, after Justice Barry White charged the jury, telling them that if they found Lillis had intended to kill or seriously injure his wife, then he should be found guilty of murder. . He most certainly intended to injure her and I believe, in that moment, to kill her and there should be no consideration given to ‘moderate force’ – there is no such thing when a man has a brick and is hitting it against another persons head – and then leaves them for 20 minuites to die alone. Yes I have alot of anger at this and a number of other trials where clever defence plays a part of getting a person off a crime or a reduced sentence. I’m only an observer, but by God, it seems so wrong that he will be out of prison after 5 years!