Soft-spoken dreamer who killed his wife

IN the words of his mistress, he was “refined, gentle, a bit of a dreamer and someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly”.

But Eamonn Lillis – the soft-spoken Terenure man with an easygoing reputation – was last night also labelled a killer as he was found guilty of the manslaughter of his wife, Celine Cawley, following a dramatic trial at the Central Criminal Court.

The jury who sat through 14 days of evidence and argument before reaching the verdict faced an unenviable task. During the trial, they were offered alternative versions by the prosecution and defence of how Ms Cawley met her death at the family home at Rowan Hill, Windgate Road, on December 15, 2008.

Was the death an accident arising out of a tragic chain of events that started with a seemingly innocuous row over Lillis’ failure to put out food for birds? Or was it something far more deliberate, even pre-meditated, which may have had its roots in his blossoming new relationship with a young beauty therapist? And, if so, did Lillis engage and persist in an elaborate cover-up about a mystery intruder in order to conceal the row and the couple’s physical injuries to each other from their daughter and others or for another more sinister reason?

According to Lillis, his wife suffered three blows to the head, which would ultimately, although not necessarily, prove fatal. One of the most poignant moments was when the victim’s father, Jim Cawley, wept openly on hearing the evidence of deputy State pathologist, Dr Michael Curtis, that his daughter would probably have survived if she had received prompt medical attention.

Lillis claims he left his wife outside on the patio for a vital 10-12 minutes following their row after she signalled she was OK and told him to “F**k off”, while he went inside the house to change his blood-soaked clothing and stage a burglary.

The 52-year-old TV advertising director, denied hitting his wife with a brick – the object which inflicted the fatal wounds. Instead, he claimed she incurred her first injury when slipping on the decking area and hitting her head off the brick.

Lillis suggested another injury occurred when he pushed her head with the heel of his hand to stop biting his finger. He claimed the brick may again have been under her head.

His only concession was that Ms Cawley may have banged the back of her head against a window when he pushed her against a patio door.

Prosecuting counsel rubbished this explanation given the evidence of Dr Curtis.

The pathologist had insisted that the three lacerations to Ms Cawley’s skull could not have resulted from a single fall. “And I don’t think she fell three times and I think two of the wounds are in a position not typical of scalp wounds caused by falling,” he said.

To the outside world, Lillis and his wife appeared a golden couple with a wealthy lifestyle.

Their large home in the upmarket Dublin suburb of Howth offered hints of their successful background. They had another property in nearby Sutton and a holiday home in France.

Ms Cawley, who earned minor fame as a Bond girl for her brief appearance in A View To A Kill in 1985, subsequently carved out a successful career in the male-dominated world of advertising and TV production, setting up her own firm, Toytown Films, in the early 1990s.

Lillis, an art director, whom she married in 1991 (a year after they first met in Kinsale), joined as a director two years later.

But Toytown remained very much Ms Cawley’s vehicle.

Her annual salary was reportedly €500,000 compared to his income of €100,000.

However, outward appearances were deceptive as the couple were encountering problems in both their personal and professional lives.

The court heard how Lillis had informed his wife that he was unhappy in their marriage, around the same time as he began his affair with Jean Treacy.

Evidence during the trial certainly painted Ms Cawley as a hard-nosed businesswoman who was also clearly the dominant partner in their marriage.

Lillis acknowledged that the couple had slept in separate bedrooms since shortly after their only child – a girl – was born in November 1992.

Simultaneously, Toytown, like many other Irish companies, was suffering a serious downturn in business. The trial heard that at the time of Ms Cawley’s death, Toytown had won no new contracts for more than two months. (It was placed in liquidation in March 2009.)

But more significantly, Lillis had begun an affair with a beauty therapist, Jean Treacy, to whom he had been introduced by his wife at the Howth Haven salon.

Although Lillis took care to hide his affair by buying new phones for Ms Tracey and for himself, he was indiscreet in other aspects of their relationship.

Ms Tracey stayed overnight at Rowan Hill on more than one occasion when it is believed that Ms Cawley and their daughter were away in London, while the couple also admitted having sex in the car park of the Pavilion shopping centre in Swords.

The jury were given the option of returning one of six verdicts – murder, acquittal and four types of manslaughter.

In their decision, the jury by a majority 10-2 verdict found that Ms Cawley’s death was not due to Lillis acting in self-defence or as a result of being provoked by her or that she had solely died as a result of Lillis’ negligence in delaying a 999 call to the emergency services which could probably have saved her life.

Instead, they concluded that her death was an unlawful killing, except the prosecution had failed to prove it was his intention to kill or seriously injure his wife – a verdict that results in manslaughter rather than murder.

Given the myriad of lies that Lillis told repeatedly to a wide range of people, who knows how different the verdict might have been if he had told the truth from the outset?

He is due to be sentenced on February 4.

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