Asked to stand at the beginning of Mr Justice Barry White’s 20-minute ruling, the 52-year-old seemed to have slumped to less than his full height by the time he discovered he would be spending a maximum of six years and 11 months in prison. The only signs that anything was wrong was his habit of biting at his inner lip, but for all that, he still carried the manner of a beaten man. The man who wrote scripts and apparently lived in a creative fantasy world of the imagination, will now have months and years to scribble his upcoming projects, and to turn over the greatest flight of fantasy which, ultimately, contributed to the length of his sentence.
Mr Justice White told Lillis that he was satisfied that he could take into account “the cover-up, the lies and deceit that you practiced in the immediate aftermath of your wife’s death”.
It was hard to detect whether Lillis believed he got off lightly or otherwise, as he was shuffled out the side door without ceremony. Similarly, it was hard to discern if the Cawley family believed they received the full measure of justice in a case which has exerted a strange hold on the nation.
Once again, Court 6 was full to bursting point, even with members of the public excluded. They could have sold tickets for the overflow room downstairs, in which there had been an audible groan the previous day when the judge said he would not be passing sentence until Friday. Buckets of popcorn would have completed the picture.
Everyone was gripped, and yesterday Mr Justice White did not spare the media and its role in the case yesterday. He decried the “constant media scrum” which he said had provided the backdrop every time Lillis had stepped in or out of the courts building.
“I consider that to be an affront to human dignity,” the judge said, asking that Lillis’s daughter not be hounded amid the frenzy.
“The media have little or no respect for the privacy or dignity of the Cawley family,” he said.
Nevertheless, the operatic quality of the case was simply too big to ignore; everyone had an opinion, everyone was intrigued. This was summed up by one man – himself a witness in another case, testifying that his father sexually assaulted him over a period of years and due on the stand himself within minutes – who went up to one reporter after the sentencing yesterday and asked how long Lillis had got.
The saga is over but it seems the verdict was too much to bear, even for the intoxicated stragglers spilling out of the doors of the courts building.
A couple who looked like they had lost an early morning scrap with a bottle of whiskey gingerly made their way past the hordes of photographers and journalists waiting outside and, like so many others, they had their view of the trial that had the nation in thrall.
“Seven years for killing his wife?,” the woman spat in a thick, boozy Dublin accent. “For f**k sake!”
Like everyone else, they couldn’t help but have their say. What should never be forgotten, amid the clamour of the trial, is the brutal fallout which has wrecked the lives of so many people, from a 17-year-old girl, now without both her parents, to family and friends of Celine, and many others besides.