A year ago I wrote about the fact that Celine Cawley’s brother and sister, on behalf of the her daughter have taken a case against Eamonn Lillis for his part of his wife’s estate. The case was adjourned back in November but it’s back in the news again as it has emerged that the court has agreed to Lillis’s daughter becoming part of the proceedings against her father.
18-year-old Georgia Lillis has said that she wants to address comments of her father’s in his submission fighting the case.
Eamonn Lillis has argued that he should keep his share in the couple’s three houses as he will have nothing when he leaves prison. He has also suggested that his daughter, who has already inherited her mother’s half of the properties, will get his half when he dies in normal succession. He has said that there is still a relationship between him and his daughter.
Once again, it’s impossible not to feel deeply sorry for his young daughter. This is the first time I’ve named her in print. It was legally barred until she reached the age of 18, as the child of someone accused of a serious crime. Once the clock chimes midnight on the eve of her 18th birthday though that protection is removed.
It seems an arbitrary moment to turn a child into an adult but for Georgia Lillis that moment probably came a lot earlier. When all this began. She said, during her father’s trial, that she found it difficult to forgive her father for lying about her mother’s death but during the week he had between verdict and sentence they spent the time at the family home together. It’s hard to comprehend how a relationship can survive such a horrific event but as an only child who can blame her for clinging to the only parent she has left.
That relationship was in the spotlight during the trial. It will be again when the civil case is heard in the new court year. It’s never good when family relationships end up picked over in the courts but when the full glare of the media spotlight is pointed at them what then?
By all accounts Georgia has a lot of support from her mother’s family but this will be the second time she has faced lawyers representing her father in court. She won’t be the first child to face a parent in court and she certainly won’t be the last but it’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
The case has been adjourned till the end of the summer court term but there won’t be any movement on it until after the summer recess. This is a story that will keep running.
Almost two years ago Eamonn Lillis killed his wife. He hit her over the head with a brick and then ran upstairs to fake a robbery to explain her wounds, while his wife, former model Celine Cawley lay dying on the frozen decking outside the kitchen.
He would later say in court, the highest profile murder trial this year, that he had acted like this to protect his daughter. He didn’t know his wife was so gravely injured, he said, and after a marital row had turned to violence both their first thoughts were for their daughter. They wanted to explain the marks from the fight on both their faces and so jointly decided to concoct a fictitious burglar.
Whatever went on that frosty morning just before Christmas 2008 we will never know for certain. We only have the word of the man now serving a six year sentence for killing his wife, who clung to the story of the masked bandit for far longer than good sense would dictate.
Now Lillis’s parenting is hitting the headlines again. It’s the latest stage in a an action started back in June by Celine’s brother and sister, Chris and Susanna Cawley. Under Irish law Lillis is not allowed to profit from killing his wife so loses his right to inherit her share of any jointly owned property. The Cawley’s are trying to ensure that he loses the right of his own share in that property, with the whole lot reverting to the couple’s daughter when she turns 18 later this month.
My heart goes out to that girl. This should be an exciting time for her, a milestone. But instead she has to watch her relationship with her only surviving parent raked over by the media and the general public.
This week the Cawley case took another step forward and was met by Lillis’s rebuttal. Chris and Susanna Cawley want Lillis declared legally dead so that his half of any shared assets will go directly to his daughter. But Lillis is fighting back. In an affidavit sent from prison he said he had discussed with his daughter what would happen when he got out of prison and that he had no intention of selling the family home of Rowan Hill, on Windgap Road in Howth.
“However the intention of my wife and I in placing the property in joint names as a joint tenancy was that our daughter would succeed to the property on the death of both of her parents. This is what I believe should happen.”
He added that she had been visiting him in prison and he intended to continue providing for her. “I want to return to the family home as her parent not as a sort of tenant at will or a co-owner sharing a jointly owned property with her.”
Providing for his daughter would be difficult he noted, since his manslaughter conviction rendered him virtually unemployable. "Many of my friends and acquaintances have distanced themselves from me. My reputation has been destroyed. My livelihood has been destroyed."
Because of this, he explained, he would also need the rental income from another house the couple had jointly owned in Sutton. Which, when added to half the proceeds from the sale of Toytown Films, the production company set up by Celine, should provide a sufficient income to allow him to keep parenting in the manner to which he has become accustomed.
Lillis insisted that losing his assets would be a punishment too far and that he had suffered enough. “Prison is a very difficult and alien world for me. However the greatest punishment is the geographical distance between myself and my daughter and the diminution in our relationship.”
It’s hard not to read Lillis’s words fighting for his assets without wondering whether his concern is for his daughter or his lifestyle. There was no indication during the trial that he and his wife were anything other than devoted parents to their only child. But she would be able to provide for herself once she hits 18. She already has her mother’s half of everything. She also has a very loving family behind her who will stop at nothing to protect her interests. Losing your money, when it’s taken away from you, doesn’t make you a bad parent, but this seems to be what label-conscious Lillis feels.
Anyway, the case is still ongoing. There’s been a three week adjournment but it will be back in the headlines before long. This is one story that will never really go away, sadly for all concerned.
It’s been reported in the papers today that Celine Cawley’s family are suing her husband Eamonn Lillis for a greater share of his wife’s estate. Lillis was convicted back in February of killing his wife – he hit her over the head three times but the jury decided that the prosecution had failed to prove that he intended to kill her. Under Irish succession laws he loses the right to inherit his wife’s half of the estate after being convicted of her manslaughter but he will still inherit his half of any property and assets the couple owned together.
The reports today say that Celine’s brother and sister Chris and Susanne Cawley are suing Lillis to ensure that his daughter with Celine will inherit a larger share of the couple’s €4 million fortune. The girl, who’s 17, is living with her mother’s family since her father was sent to jail. She will turn 18 in November and will come into her inheritance. She will also lose the anonymity guaranteed her as a minor so closely linked to a criminal trial. At Lillis’s sentencing, in a heartfelt victim impact statement Susanne Cawley spoke about the families concerns for the girl. It’s unsurprising therefore that they want to make sure she has the resources to protect herself from any unwanted attention.
Her parents owned three properties. Rowan Hill on Howth Head, where the family lived at the time of her mother’s death, a dream holiday home in France and an earlier home in Sutton. As things stand at the moment, Lillis could veto any property sales his daughter may choose to make. Her mother’s family wish to change this.
It’s not the first time that Celine Cawley’s will has hit the headlines. Soon after the trial, while I was working on the book of her tragic death and the subsequent legal proceedings, I wrote here about Lillis’s stepping down as executor of his wife’s will. I commented at the time about the curious politeness that has followed these horrific events. It appears now that the gloves have come off.
Yesterday in the High Court the ongoing story of Eamonn Lillis made a brief appearance. Lillis is serving his time in Wheatfield Prison in Dublin, anyone who reads the papers knows that his prisoner number is now 55511 and that he shares a landing with such high profile names as David Bourke and Finn Colclough.
But this latest twist in the story was of a far more practical nature. As Celine Cawley’s husband, Lillis was automatically the executor of her estate. Yesterday he relinquished that right and the role of executor was instead handed over to Celine’s brother and sister, Chris Cawley and Susanna Coonan.
A woman dies and the husband is accused of killing her these small details of a person’s death take on a new significance. Whether convicted of murder or manslaughter or even acquitted, once the husband has been looked at in this way small matters of probate become front page news. It’s actually quite unusual to see a story like this one, where the paper work has been filed at an early stage after conviction and matters appear to be running smoothly.
Compare the headlines in today’s papers, like this one or this, with the kind of stories that have appeared in the past. Joe O’Reilly had a five year battle with his wife’s family over what name should be put on her tombstone. Brian Kearney has hit the headlines for his attempted sale of the Hotel Salvia in Mallorca that he ran with his wife Siobhan. Both men were convicted of murdering their wives.
There were plenty of indignant front pages about attempts by John O’Brien to reclaim items belonging to his wife Meg Walsh, that gardai had seized when they were investigating him for her murder. Despite the fact that Mr O’Brien was acquitted of the crime his involvement in these matters has continued to generate substantial column inches.
Eamonn Lillis is the latest man to enter the exclusive club of high profile Irish wife killers. He was convicted last month of her manslaughter. Despite the fact that a jury of his peers have decided he did not intend to kill his wife, although he was responsible for her death, his financial affairs especially those that are in some way connected with his wife, will continue to make news.
There has already been indignant coverage of the fact that Lillis will inherit half his wife’s estate and a half share of the money raised from the sale of her company Toytown Films. I can see why these stories hit the headlines I’ve just seldom seen a case when the headlines is because someone isn’t doing something rather than because they are.
But then the Lillis case has been an unusual one in a lot of ways.
In completely unrelated news tonight I am a contributor on a new TV3 series on Irish television called Aftermath. I was in last night’s episode talking about the murder of Swiss student Manuela Riedo in Galway. The episode is now up online on the TV3 website if you fancy a look.
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.”
Celine Cawley’s brother Christopher looked shaken and uncomfortable as he took the stand against the man his sister had been married to for seventeen years. Eamonn Lillis did not look at his brother-in-law as he told the court about an incident in the days after Celine’s death.
Mr Cawley told the court that Mr Lillis and his daughter had stayed with them while the gardai conducted their forensic investigation of the house on the Windgate Road in Howth where Celine Cawley had been killed.
He said that on December 18th, three days after the tragedy he had a conversation with his brother-in-law about a story that had appeared in the Evening Herald. The story had concerned the discovery of a bloody brick at the crime scene and the announcement that this brick had been the murder weapon.
Mr Cawley said Mr Lillis had seemed surprised by the story. He had thought it odd, “because everyone knows that the brick was found for didn’t I hold the brick in my own hand.”
This afternoon’s evidence largely came from the members of the extended Cawley family. Christopher Cawley’s house had become the gathering place for family and friends in the hours after the news of Celine’s death had been broken. Paula Linsky, Christopher Cawley’s sister-in-law, told the court that she had been leaving the house to collect her children from school just as Mr Lillis arrived there after speaking to gardai.
She told the court that she had heard an outpouring of grief as she left the house that day as Mr Lillis’s daughter greeted her father. “I just heard very upset people.”
The death had caused shockwaves through this extremely middle class world. A neighbour, Pauline Fraser, told the court that she heard two screams on the morning of the 15th at around 9.30. The sound was so unusual at that hour of the day that it stuck in her memory.
She told the court that she had slept late after spending most of the previous night at the hospital but had been woken by a shriek. Then thirty seconds later came another scream. She had thought it was teenagers outside the local newsagents or possibly a neighbour’s children and only reconsidered when her husband called to tell her that the tranquillity of their leafy road had been irreparably broken. The scream had been high pitched, definitely a woman.
The court also heard forensic evidence that Ms Cawley’s DNA had been found on the heavily bloodstained clothes found in a suitcase in the attic at Rowan Hill. Dr Hillary Clarke told the court that she would have expected the clothes Mr Lillis had handed over to gardai to have been far more heavily bloodstained if he had been carrying out CPR on his wife.
She said that both the top Mr Lillis had handed over and the t-shirt he wore underneath had Ms Cawley’s blood on the inside. The most likely explanation for a stain inside one of the sleeve’s of the jumper was that the arm that had been put in it had been wet with blood.
She said that runner boots found in Mr Lillis’s bedroom had both airborne and contact blood stains and had almost certainly been nearby when Celine Cawley’s blood had been spilt.
She said that lighter blood stains on a pair of heavily bloodstained jeans found in the suitcase had probably come from someone cleaning up blood, as had similar stains on a pair of white socks found in the same place although she agreed with defence counsel Brendan Grehan that these stains could have been made by the wet blood that had pooled inside one of the rubber gloves found in the suitcase.
A Breitling watch found on the bedside table in Mr Lillis’s room had, she said been wiped clean of Ms Cawley’s blood, although some remained in the crevice around the watch space and the links of the strap yielded both blood and tissue both of which were a match for Ms Cawley’s DNA.