There wasn’t a sound as judge Barry White read out his judgement. Eamonn Lillis stood to attention, his eyes fixed on the judge, his chin tilted upwards in the nervously arrogant gesture he adopted each time the going got tough during his trial. Ultimately though the news wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
The court was not as full as it had been throughout the three week trial. Today and yesterday the throngs of public had been banished to the downstairs viewing room where they could watch proceedings on a live video feed. For once the Cawley family did not have shopping bags resting on the back of their bench and a press of bodies leaning over them as hearing aids struggled with the acoustics of the court.
Lillis’s friends and family sat, as they had throughout the trial in the second row to the side of the now empty jury box. His younger sister Carmel and friend Gerry Kennedy, who spoke in his defence at yesterday’s hearing, were able to talk briefly to the convicted man after his first night in custody. When he came into court, a few moments after 11 o’clock, he looked more relaxed than he had during the trial, as if the worst was over and all he was now waiting for was to know when it would finally end.
Judge White took his seat at 11.08 and Lillis got to his feet. The judgement was lengthy and considered. Judge White told Lillis that he he had at least had the decency to call the emergency services after he had injured his wife and had aided them in their attempts to save her but this, in his opinion was “the only decent action or actions you committed on that particular morning.”
He said that Lillis’s continuing lies, the changing and hiding of his clothes and the blaming of an innocent man were purely to conceal his own guilt and that he considered Lillis’s admissions at the start of the trial, principally that his story of a masked assailant was a complete fabrication, were merely self serving.
Judge White also said that he did not believe Lillis’s apology to the court yesterday. He said that a plea to manslaughter at an earlier stage in the investigation, even if it had been refused by the Director of Public Prosecutions, would have shown genuine contrition and remorse.
Lillis did not falter as the judge told him that considering the facts of the case and considering the lies and deceit he had practised the appropriate sentence for his crime was ten years. There was a slight gasp in the court room from Lillis’s family as the figure was mentioned. The Cawley family sat tensely as the judge continued his judgement, turning now to the mitigating factors he must take into account.
Judge White said that it was obvious Celine Cawley’s death had a devastating effect on people of all ages, from her 80-year-old father to her 17-year-old daughter as her sister Suzanna’s victim impact statement yesterday had shown. He said that the victim impact statement handed in on behalf of Mr Lillis’s daughter had shown strongly how a 16-year-old girl had changed into a hardened 17-year-old adult.
He said he accepted that Lillis’s actions had been out of character although he found this hard to reconcile with Lillis’s own account of the row with his wife, in which he shoved the brick at her and told her to “shove it where the sun doesn’t shine”.
However he said he also took into account the fact that the case had received considerable media attention and publicity and that this was likely to continue even after Lillis had served his time in prison. The final sentence he handed down was for seven years, reduced to 6 years and 11 months to take into account the time Lillis had served on remand.
Then he turned to the media. Looking at the three rows of journalists sitting in front of him, with others scattered around the court Barry White said that after reading the victim impact statements he thought that the media had “little or no respect for the privacy or dignity of the Cawley family” He continued “it’s also clear to me watching news bulletins that there has been a constant media scrum whenever you entered or left the building. I consider that to be an affront to human dignity.”
He asked the media to respect the privacy of the Cawley family from now on.
In the silence that followed defence counsel Brendan Grehan formally asked for leave to appeal and received the formal refusal. Lillis must first apply for leave to appeal with the Court of Criminal Appeal before being granted one.
Lillis was led away by the waiting prison officers. He will not be seen again until his release, if the press are as dogged as Judge White fears. Celine’s father James Cawley went over to Inspector Dave Dowling and the two men embraced. Mr Cawley was heard to say quietly “Thank God it’s all over now”.
Celine’s sister Suzanna went over to Lillis’s sister Carmel and handed her a small folded note. The two women shook hands and hugged, slightly awkwardly in the crowded court. Celine’s brother Chris had left after the sentence was delivered, following his wife’s sudden departure from the court.
Outside, the usual press scrum was a muted affair. The journalists stood to one side as the Cawley family stood for the waiting photographers. Then they moved in for Chris Cawley and Celine’s brother-in-law Andrew Coonan to speak.
After thanking their friends and neighbours and the gardai who conducted the investigation Chris Cawley broke down as he remembered his sister as a dynamic, kind, successful, fun loving, caring person. “She had a beautiful energy that lit up so many lives.”