Eamonn Lillis has told his murder trial at the Central Criminal Court that he was a major participant in the fight that led to his wife’s fatal injuries.
The 52-year-old TV advert producer was giving evidence on the ninth day of his trial for the alleged murder of Celine Cawley at their home on December 15, 2008.
He has pleaded not guilty to murdering her at Rowan Hill, Windgate Road, Howth while their daughter was at school. The 46-year-old died of blunt force trauma to the head after receiving three blows.
Mr Lillis had said he found an intruder attacking her on their patio but last week admitted that there was no intruder.
The defendant told Brendan Grehan SC, defending, that everything was normal in his house that morning until a sudden row over forgetfulness and chores turned nasty.
He said his wife was wearing rubber gloves at the kitchen sink when he returned from walking their three dogs. She asked him to make tea but he said he wanted to clear dog ‘poo’ from the patio first and he walked outside.
“Celine called after me had I given the meal worms to the robin. I said I’d forgotten. She said it was bloody typical of me to keep forgetting things,” he said. “We argued about it back and forth. I shouted some abuse.”
He said that he had turned away when his wife followed him out, and he saw her getting up off the ground out of the corner of his eye. She was picking up a brick and he presumed she’d fallen on it.
“I asked if she was ok, what had happened,” he said. “What do you care?” she replied according to her husband.
“She thrust the brick at me,” he said. “I said something rude to her and walked away. She came flying back out and said that was typical of me: ‘You always walk away.’”
He said things then turned nasty and they began screaming at each other.
“I went up to her, shoved the brick at her and said why don’t you shove this where the sun don’t shine,” he said.
“I jabbed her on the shoulder with my fingers,” he said. “She took a swipe at me. I don’t think she meant to hit me but she caught me on the side of my face.”
“I got extremely angry and pushed her back towards the sliding doors,” he added.
He said he tried to grab the brick from her but his glove fell off and his fingernail got torn off.
“I was extremely angry. I pushed her again, quite hard, against the corner of the living room window,” he recalled. “She let an almighty scream.”
He said this might have been because she had banged her head but he did not see this.
“She pushed around me. I grabbed her by the shoulder. I was trying to get the brick off her. She caught me with the brick again,” he claimed. “I grabbed her right wrist and pushed her hand over her right shoulder. The brick was still in her hand.”
“We did a half turn and ended up on the decking. I lost my balance so she lost her balance because I was pushing her,” he said, explaining that they landed close to the border between the decking at the patio.
“She was lying on the ground, on the flat of her back. I was on my knees, half across her,” he said, explaining that his other glove had now come off and was underneath her.
“I went to get up. She grabbed my hand and bit my finger. She wouldn’t let go,” he testified. He said she was twisting her head from side to side while biting his right little finger.
“I hit her on her forehead to stop her moving,” he said “I screamed at her. It was extremely painful.”
He said the row ended when she let go of his finger. He said he then picked up the brick that was near her head and threw it a foot or two away.
“I think it was the sheer shock at what had happened that stopped the row. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to think,” he said.
“At this stage I noticed her head was bleeding and there was blood. I got onto my knees. Celine seemed quiet and dazed. She went to sit up,” he said. “I went to the side of her head. I got her to rest her head on my lap for a minute.”
He was then asked to explain the three wounds to her head and the scratch on her face.
“I assume the first time she fell she might have hit her head on the brick because she picked up a brick and was holding her head,” he said.
“When she banged her head off the window edge because she let an almighty scream,” he said, explaining the second.
“When we fell down off the deck onto the patio,” he suggested as the cause of the third laceration.
“The scrape on her face could have happened when I raised the brick over her shoulder, the brick grazed her face,” he said.
Mr Grehan asked him what happened after the row.
“I’m looking around thinking about what happened. I presume she was as well,” he said, confirming that she was conscious.
“She didn’t speak until after she sat up after she rested her head on my lap,” he said. “She pulled off her rubber gloves and threw them on the ground.”
He said he asked her what they were going to tell their daughter and asked if she was ok.
“She said yeah and told me to go away,” he claimed.
“Will we tell her we surprised a robber?” he said he suggested, explaining that their house had been burgled before. “She said ‘yeah, yeah’ and waved her hand at me.”
“I went back into the kitchen and brought out some wet kitchen paper and a towel,” he recalled. He said he gave these to his wife to hold against the back of her head for a few minutes. He said he asked her again if she was ok.
“Yeah, yeah. F*** off and leave me alone. Go away. Go away,” he claimed she said.
He said he thought they needed some space at that stage so picked up the gloves and paper towels and went into the kitchen
“I didn’t see a huge amount of blood on her head. Her hair was thick and black. Her reaction didn’t give me the impression that she was seriously hurt,” he explained.
He said he wrapped his finger in tissue and threw the gloves and paper towels into a plastic bag before going into the living room to stage the robbery for their daughter’s benefit.
“I copied what had been robbed from our house before,” he said. “I grabbed camera gear.”
He said he then went upstairs, cleaned his finger in the bathroom and took off his watch in the bedroom
“I noticed blood on my jeans,” he said. He took them off along with his shoes and socks, threw them on the floor and changed.
He said he returned to the bathroom to put another tissue on his blood-soaked finger.
“I sat on the edge of the bath trying to gather myself,” said. “I didn’t know what to think. I was incredibly upset and my finger was in incredible pain too.”
Back in the bedroom he put on another watch and saw the bloody tissue and clothes on the floor.
“I figured they were never going to wash out and shoved them into the plastic bag,” he said. He put them into a suitcase that was outside his door, noticed that the attic door across the landing was opened and put the case in there.
“I knew when I came downstairs Celine would say: ‘Well if we’re going to make it look like a robbery, what have you done about it?’ That’s the last thing I needed,” he said.
He said he went back downstairs to the kitchen.
“I looked out the door and saw Celine lying on the ground. I went out to her and called her name,” he said, explaining that his wife was mostly on her back with her legs and arms facing sideways.
“She didn’t answer me. I knelt down beside her. I shook her chin and she didn’t wake up,” he said, adding that he kept calling her name. “I didn’t know whether she was breathing.”
He said he tried to check her pulse but couldn’t work it out and dialled 999.
He said he told the operator that there had been a robbery as that’s what they’d just agreed.
“Even then I thought surely she’d be ok. There was no reason that I could think of that she’d go from being ok to seriously injured.”
He said he carried out CPR as instructed until the gardaí arrived.
Mr Lillis said he told the paramedics who arrived that there’d been a burglar because he’d already told the operator this and also because he didn’t want people to know that their injuries were from a row they’d had.
“I saw them picking her up and bringing her to the ambulance. I presumed she was ok. I presumed that if someone was dead they were not moved,” he said, when asked why he continued this story to the gardaí. “I presumed Celine would say the same thing as well so I kept with the story.”
He said that when he found out his wife had died, he went into complete shock and didn’t know what to do.
“I was trying to deny what had happened myself. I didn’t want people to know we’d had a fight,” he said in explanation of a lengthy statement he gave gardaí about a burglar. “I just got paralysed. I’m sorry.”
He was asked why he’d kept the story of the ‘phantom attacker’ even when arrested.
“Having said it before, I’d boxed myself into a corner,” he said. “All that week I’d been surrounded by all of Celine’s family and friends. I felt trapped. I didn’t see any way out.”
“I’d never been in a fight in my life even, especially in a situation like this,” he said when asked why it took him until January to tell anyone the truth. “My wife had died. I didn’t want to accept it. I couldn’t find any way of explaining to people what happened.”
However, he said he felt he had to tell his daughter.
He was asked about a note found in his bedroom which listed a number of statements.
“They were some notes I’d taken several weeks before, nothing to do with these events,” he said. “It was based on things going on in my life.
Mary Ellen Ring SC, prosecuting, opened her cross examination by quoting evidence given by his daughter on Thursday: “I was brought up never to lie.”
“Were you present throughout her childhood or is that the work of your wife?” she asked before listing the lies he told following Ms Cawley’s death and the number of times he told them.
“You gave the name of a person to gardaí. That man had nothing to do with these events,” she said about one of the lies. “At that stage you knew your wife had died.”
“I did not try to implicate him for the death of my wife,” he said.
“I’m truly, truly sorry. I felt trapped. I didn’t see a way out of it,” he said when asked about embracing his daughter in raw grief at the time.
“I was taking valium and sleeping pills. I was irrational,” he said as to why he continued to lie even after his arrested when it was clear the gardaí didn’t believe his story. He said parts of his statements were true.
“By the 15th of November you were well used to deception weren’t you? You’d been lying for eight weeks at least to your wife,” she said, referring to his affair.
“I was deceiving her by not telling her but didn’t lie to her directly,” he said.
“Can we agree that the only person who hurt Celine Cawley on December 15, 2008 was you?” she asked.
“I was there,” he replied.
She asked if he had caused none of Ms Cawley’s many injuries.
“They were caused by the struggle between us,” he said.
“Are you saying the harm was the result of her actions?” she asked.
“As a result of the physical tussle. I accept I was a major participant in it,” he said.
Ms Ring said that in this fight, his wife was flatlining with serious blood loss from three head wounds, while he needed only a bandage on his finger.
He denied attacking his wife when she scratched his face ‘like a cat’.
He said the staging of the robbery and changing of his clothes took about 10 to 12 minutes.
She asked him why he was in such a hurry to hide the clothes when his daughter wouldn’t be home from school for four hours. Would he not find a better hiding place when he went to meet his girlfriend that morning, she asked.
“I just wanted to get it out of the way to get back downstairs to Celine. I’d no intention of leaving the house after that happened,” he said
Ms Ring will continue cross examining Mr Lillis on Monday before Mr Justice Barry White and a jury of six women and six men.