Tragedy laid bare in court room drama

ONCE united as family the divide between them was now all to evident.

As the female court register confirmed the jury’s majority manslaughter verdict Celine Cawley’s relatives, including her elderly father James, sister Susanna and brother Chris were silent, some sobbed and shook their heads. Just yards away Cawley’s former husband’s two sisters looked over anxiously from their bench through a crowded court room, at Eamonn Lillis sitting in the dock.

Lillis only slightly pursed his lips at the verdict that ended the four day trail and near three days of deliberations.

Rising to his feet, and choosing his words somewhat unfortunately, defence barrister Brendan Grehan, said his client would need some time out on bail prior to sentencing “to put his affairs in order”.

Judge Barry White pondered, before remanding Lillis on continuing bail till next Thursday. The court setting the stringent condition that he sign on twice daily at a Garda station between 9am and noon and between 6pm and 9pm. Initially the judge referred to Lillis as “the accused” before correcting himself – “the convict as he now is”.

Two women jurors silently cried as Judge White commended the 12 citizens on their service and how they had coped with “the additional pressures due to the public attention on the case”. Some of those responsible for this additional pressure also showed the strain, two young woman journalists wiping away tears.

For 10 minutes pervious to the verdict the packed court room had stood in silence awaiting, first the entrance of Judge White then the six men and six women of the jury. At 6.10pm journalists, relatives, members of the public and gardaí had swarmed back in through the impressive wooden doors of Court 19, on the top floor of Dublin’s new courthouse. Since 11 o’clock they had waited for the jury to complete hours of painstaking deliberation.

Lillis himself had also waited for a decision that would shape the rest of his life. Sitting on the marble benches attached to the walls of the circular top floor walkway, at stages he rested his head, eyes closed. His two sisters stood feet away, protective of their brother.

At other times he whiled away the hours reading Dear Sebastian – a book collection of letters from notable people in Irish society to a young boy who lost his father to cancer.

Celine and Eamonn’s own 17-year-old daughter, who had so painfully taken the witness box eight days previously was not present in the court building. Most of the scores of public drawn to watch the case were respectable and middle aged – possibly recognising something of themselves in the decidedly middle class background of the family now torn apart by Cawley’s untimely death. Others were less concerned by the Celtic Tiger end of epoch undertones, the heady mix of wealth, mistresses and lies satisfying enough.

Discussion among the media centred on whether Judge White would make the jury sit again on Saturday or delay till after the weekend. The consensus was that taking into account his love of horse racing, and with a high profile meeting on in Fairyhouse, he would delay till Monday.

The developing consensus on the final verdict was more correct. Most concluding that following the jury’s request for clarification of the meaning of the various possible verdicts of murder, manslaughter or acquittal that they were refining the reasoning behind finding Lillis guilty of the lesser charge. Following the conviction over a dozen of Celine’s family, tearful but dignified, made their way along the marble walkway, one young woman relative briefly shook hands with a Lillis relative – it was a stark reminder of the bond that still remains between these families.

Outside the press pack awaited. In a three-deep scrum the journalists and photographers struggled for the best positioning. At one stage a hood being ripped off a jacket as over exuberance resulted in a skirmish between two photographers.

First out was Lillis, surprisingly he walked straight into the media scrum, photographers scuttling after him, a moped knocked to the ground in the melee. Without emotion, or comment, he got into the awaiting car, protected from the camera flashes by black tinted windows. Eventually Chris Cawley emerged to deliver a few words: “As you appreciate the case is ongoing till next Thursday so we are not in a position to any comment at this stage.”

Moments later 11 members of the Cawley family, father James in the centre, walked out. Supporting each other they marched past photographers. Their lives changed forever by a court room drama that will be recorded in history as the new Criminal Court of Justice buildings first high profile case, but for them simply a very public family tragedy.

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