Jury finds Lillis guilty of manslaughter

Eamonn Lillis has been found not guilty of murdering his wife, Celine Cawley, but guilty of her manslaughter in their Howth home while their daughter was at school.

Eamonn Lillis has been found not guilty of murdering his wife, Celine Cawley, but guilty of her manslaughter in their Howth home while their daughter was at school.

The jury of six women and six men said the state had failed to prove intent. They took nine and a half hours over two and a half days to reach a majority decision of 10 to 2.

The verdict followed the 14-day trial at the Central Criminal Court. He will be sentenced on Thursday.

The 52-year-old TV advert producer, originally from Terenure in Dublin, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Celine Cawley on December 15, 2008 at Rowan Hill, Windgate Road, Howth.

The 46-year-old successful businesswoman died in hospital at 10.56am that Monday morning of blunt force trauma to the head. She had been rushed to Beaumont by paramedics after Lillis dialled 999.

During the trial, the deputy state pathologist said that moderate force would have caused the three wounds to Ms Cawley’s head, that resulted in blood loss and asphyxia; her obesity and enlarged heart were contributory factors. He said she might not have died if medical help had been summoned more quickly.

Lillis, who was having an affair with his masseuse, said he found an intruder attacking his wife on their patio. It was not until the first day of his trial almost three weeks ago that he admitted that there was no intruder.

Lillis said that Monday morning started out normally. He woke around 6.30am, exercised, brought tea to his daughter and to his wife, who did not share his room. He said they had a kiss and cuddle in her bed while watching TV, before Ms Cawley made her daughter’s lunch and he brought her to school.

He said that he stopped to buy a paper on the way home, cleaned up a little, fed the cats and took their three dogs for a walk. He was planning to meet his mistress, Jean Treacy, later.

The stories he told gardaí differed from the testimony he gave in court. He did not mention cats or a clean-up to gardaí, and did not admit his affair until Ms Treacy’s statement was put to him.

Lillis told gardaí that when he came home an intruder was attacking his wife on the patio, that he tried to intervene but this assailant knocked him out and escaped.

However, in the witness box he said his wife was wearing rubber gloves and cleaning out the fridge when he arrived home. She asked him to put on the kettle and make some tea. He said he would do it after he cleaned up dog droppings on the patio, and put on a pair of outdoor gloves.

He said she called out after him, asking if he had fed the robin; he had forgotten. A bitter row ensued, in which she called him a bad father and terrible husband, and he accused her of being interested only in her 'Superwoman' image.

He said she must have slipped when she followed him out, as he saw her get up out of the corner of his eye. He said she was picking up a brick and rubbing her head, so he presumed she must have banged it. This was his explanation for one of the three lacerations to her head.

He said that she thrust the brick at him and he jabbed her in the shoulders. She took a swipe at him with the brick and it caught him on the side of his face, angering him. He said he tried to grab the brick but his glove fell off and his fingernail was torn. Her face might have been grazed here, he suggested.

He pinned her up against a window, and she "let an almighty scream". He said she possibly banged her head off the window edge, perhaps resulting in another laceration.

The prosecution put it to him that the wounds on the back of her head were horizontal and the window edge was vertical. He repeated that he wasn’t sure if she banged her head; she might have been merely screaming at him.

He said they both slipped and fell, with her landing on her back, and that this might be where she suffered the second or third laceration.

His other glove came off as he tried to get up and she bit his little finger so hard that he thought she was going to bite it off, twisting her head from side to side.

“I hit her on her forehead to stop her moving,” he said. “I screamed at her. It was extremely painful.”

He said he pushed her forehead with the heel of his other hand to force her to release his finger. She might have suffered the third laceration here, he suggested. It was around this time that she scraped him, he said; the jury saw photos of three scratch marks to his grazed face.

She finally let go and he threw away the brick, which was beside her head.

He told the court that the row stopped, he noticed a cut to his wife’s head and rested it on his lap. This was his explanation for the large amount of her blood found on his jeans and jumper, later found hidden in his attic.

He said his wife threw off her rubber gloves. He asked her how they’d explain their scrapes to their daughter, suggesting they tell her they’d disturbed a burglar. His wife was sitting up and agreed with his plan, before telling him to go away.

He said he felt they needed space, put both pairs of gloves into a bin bag, along with kitchen towel he gave his wife for her cut. He then went into the living room to stage a robbery for their daughter’s benefit, taking some camera gear and the bin bag upstairs to his room.

In his room he changed out of his bloodstained clothes and washed his hands. He put the bloodied clothes in the bin bag and hid it in a case in the attic along with the camera gear. He didn’t think the blood would wash out, he explained.

He said that he went back downstairs and saw his wife lying on the patio, unconscious. He couldn’t revive her and dialled 999. It was 10.04am.

The 999 call was played to the jury, who heard Lillis say an intruder had attacked his wife and himself. He said he was simply following the story that he and his wife had just agreed. The operator was heard giving instructions in CPR, which Lillis said he followed.

When gardaí arrived later he continued with his intruder story, thinking that his wife would be fine and tell the same lie, he said.

He made a similar statement at Howth Garda station after his wife died, and even gave the name of a real person, who gardaí investigated. He rang the following day to add more detail.

He handed over the clothes he was wearing at the garda station, pretending that these were the clothes he wore when he found his wife. Three days later, the gardaí found the case of bloodied clothes in his attic. At one stage, he said there must have been a second intruder "stashing" things in the attic.

Gardaí put it to him that he had lost his head and killed his wife, who was domineering and earned five times his salary in the company she founded, Toytown Films. He denied this and blamed the phantom burglar.

A few weeks after his wife died, he admitted to his daughter that they’d had a fight. The 17-year-old gave evidence of her memory of that conversation. She said she forgave her father for the row but not for the lies he told afterwards, although she knew he told them to protect her.

“I was brought up never to lie,” she said through video link.

Although Ms Treacy cut contact with Lillis after Ms Cawley’s death, they met three times in the spring and he also told her he had a fight with his wife. She testified about what he told her as well as about their eight-week affair.

She said that Lillis received a call from his wife one day while they were out in his Mercedes jeep with its tinted windows for their privacy. Ms Cawley wanted him to return home with the jeep immediately, she said.

Ms Treacy said that Ms Cawley spoke "very badly" to her husband, but that he didn’t react and spoke back normally.

She said he told her that the fight was about him forgetting to take out the rubbish and that Ms Cawley "went mad". He told her he saw his wife fall on the decking and "bounce back up like a beach ball", that she hurled abuse at him and they said disgusting things to each other.

She said he gently pushed her forehead to stop her biting him and that all of a sudden a pool of blood appeared under her head, where he noticed a brick. He told her she slipped in and out of consciousness a couple of times.

“Look at the state of us. We’re all cuts and grazes,” Ms Cawley said when she came to the first time, according to her husband “What will we tell (our daughter)?”

Ms Treacy said that they agreed on the burglary story, before she slipped out of consciousness again. She came back, said she was ok, and slipped out of consciousness for good. He dialled 999.

Ms Treacy said she urged him to tell the truth, but he said his solicitor had told him to say nothing.

The jury announced its verdict to a packed but silent courtroom about 6.30pm. It was one of the first times a jury had been asked to give its reason should it reach a manslaughter verdict.

Mr Justice Barry White began the day by saying they would now accept a majority verdict of not less that 10 to 2. He later said this would also apply to any of four reasons for reaching a manslaughter verdict.

Firstly, he reminded them, there was lack of intent, he said, explaining that there was help available for them in deciding if there was intent.

“A person is presumed to have intended the natural and probable consequences of his or her actions,” he said. However, that presumption was not absolute and could be rebutted. He said it was up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it hadn’t been rebutted.

Secondly there was provocation, for which they would have to use a subjective test and put themselves in the defendant’s shoes.

“Provocation presupposes the mind isn’t working, the person isn’t rationalising,” he explained.

Thirdly, manslaughter could arise where the accused was acting in self defence but used more force than they considered necessary.

Finally, he said there was gross negligence.

“If a person dies as a result of contact between two people, and the defendant appreciates that there’s a risk of death and still fails to go to his or her assistance,” he said.

“It’s not that Mr Lillis contends that he might be guilty of manslaughter,” he said. “The defence contends Eamonn Lillis should be acquitted entirely because the deceased, it says, met her death accidentally.”

However if a manslaughter verdict could be considered, he said, the judge had to say that.

“The prosecution contends this is murder,” he reminded the jury. “It says it’s proved an unlawful killing and intent to kill.”

Mr Justice White thanked the jurors for their service and excused them from jury service for life. At least one of the jurors wept as they filed out of their jury box for the last time.

“It’s clear you’ve paid great attention to the case. I’ve no doubt there were additional pressures on you,” he said, citing the large amount of public attention the trial had attracted.

After the verdict was read out, Brendan Grehan SC, defending, asked Mr Justice White for a week to allow his client to put his affairs in order. The judge remanded Lillis on continuing bail.

“I will remand the accused, and convict as he now is, until next Thursday morning,” he said, instructing him to sign on with gardaí twice daily, from 9am to 12pm and from 6pm to 9pm. His passport had already been surrendered.

He said that knowing the reason for the jury’s decision would be of assistance in sentencing.

Members of Ms Cawley’s family wept before they left the courtroom, but said they had no comment to make as the case was ongoing.

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