The 52-year-old TV advertising director is expected to be sentenced for the unlawful killing of the former Bond girl and model at the Central Criminal Court next Thursday after trial judge Mr Justice Barry White consented to Lillis being remanded on bail to allow him “put his affairs in order”.
In a dramatic conclusion to a trial that has dominated news headlines over the past three weeks, the jury found Lillis guilty of manslaughter by a 10-2 majority verdict on the basis that the state had failed to prove that he had intended to kill or seriously injure his wife.
In an unusual development, the jurors were given the choice of convicting the accused of manslaughter on one of four different grounds. They rejected the options that Ms Cawley had died because her husband was provoked, that he acted in self-defence or that he had been grossly negligent.
A conviction for manslaughter can result in a range of punishments from life imprisonment to a suspended sentence or even a fine or community service order in rare instances.
The verdict came at 6.26pm just minutes before the jury were due to be sent home for the weekend with an order to return to the Central Criminal Court on Monday to continue their deliberations. It was reached after the jury of six men and six women had been deliberating for almost nine and a half hours spread over three days.
Lillis, originally from Terenure, had pleaded not guilty to his wife’s murder at their family home at Rowan Hill, Windgate Road, Howth, Co Dublin, on December 15, 2008.
The 14-day trial heard evidence from 48 witnesses, including Lillis, who denied ever hitting his wife with a brick, although he accepted he was “a major participant” in a physical row in which she suffered fatal injuries. The UCD graduate also denied that an affair he had begun with beauty therapist Jean Treacy just two months earlier had any link to his wife’s death.
The court heard evidence that Lillis had concocted and persisted with an elaborate story of how a masked intruder had attacked him and his wife on the patio of their back garden before making his escape, even identifying to gardaí a named individual as the likely burglar.
However, his legal team admitted on the first day of the trial that the story of the phantom intruder was a total fabrication. In evidence, Lillis claimed that he made up the excuse of a burglar to explain their physical injuries to their teenage daughter, as well as to hide the fact that they had a major row from family and friends.
Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis said three wounds to the head caused by blunt force trauma were one of the principal causes of death.
However, Dr Curtis said Ms Cawley’s life would probably have been saved if she had received prompt medical attention.
Lillis confessed that he had left his injured wife outside on the patio while he changed his blood-soaked clothing and stage-managed a burglary inside the house for 10-12 minutes before alerting emergency services.
Sitting in the back row of the packed courtroom, the victim’s elderly father, James, shook his head as the verdict was read out, while other members of his family, including Celine’s sister-in-law Sorcha, broke down crying. Two female members of the jury also fought back tears.
Lillis showed no emotion as Mr Justice White agreed to remand him on continuing bail despite a request by counsel for the DPP to have him held in custody while awaiting sentence.
Unknown to jurors, a major legal row erupted in the trial earlier this week after Lillis’ barrister Brendan Grehan asked for the jury to be discharged over the manner in which Mr Justice White had summed up the evidence. Mr Grehan accused the judge of pushing the jury towards a verdict of murder and complained that he had acted in a “partisan, unbalanced and highly selective” manner.
The judge denied the claims, although he recalled the jury to provide a number of corrections and clarifications at the defence team’s request. The complaints may yet form the basis of any challenge Lillis may make to his conviction or sentence at the Court of Criminal Appeal.