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.