Cawley's family 'haunted by not knowing what happened'

Eamonn Lillis will be sentenced tomorrow after he apologised today for the events that led to his wife Celine Cawley's death.

Eamonn Lillis will be sentenced tomorrow after he apologised today for the events that led to his wife Celine Cawley's death.

The 52-year-old TV ad producer was last week cleared by a jury of the murder of the mother of one.

In a victim impact statement Celine Cawley's sister Susanna said the family were haunted by not knowing exactly what had happened.

Mr Justice Barry White will review submissions made by both sides and will finalise sentencing tomorrow morning.

Mary Ellen Ring SC, prosecuting, became emotional as she read a victim impact statement written by Ms Cawley’s sister, Susannah Coonan.

A statement from Ms Cawley’s and Lillis’ teenaged daughter was also handed into the Central Criminal Court.

Two of Lillis’s old university friends entered the witness box to give character statements on his behalf, while Brendan Grehan SC, defending, handed Mr Justice Barry White three other testimonials on behalf of his client.

“It’s next to impossible to put into writing what’s happened to the family’s lives since last December,” wrote Ms Coonan.

She wrote that the memory of her “good-humoured, roguish, fun, compassionate, caring sister” was entirely deleted from her mind. It had been replaced with “a horror of blood” her head-shaven, dead body and the 18 injuries to her face.

“The image of her slipping in blood and frost fighting for her life on the patio is all that I can think of,” she wrote.

She wrote that not knowing exactly what happened was the worst part.

“I was with my mother and sister when they passed away,” she explained. “For Celine and us, who mourn her deeply, we were utterly deprived of any dignity and peace.”

She wrote that while their mother and sister had passed away surrounded by the comfort of hospice staff, Celine Cawley was denied that dignity.

“Even her funeral was a media circus,” she wrote.

Ms Cawley described the lies her brother-in-law had told as endless.

“The terrible realisation is that I’ll probably never know what happened,” she wrote.

“I play the scene over and over again in my head as to how she spent her dying minutes,” she continued. “Was she in pain? Was she conscious? Was she frightened? Did she think about (her daughter)? Did she know she was dying?”

“There’s only one person who knows the answer,” she stated. “It seems I’ll never know.”

She said that it became obvious over the months that she would have no say in what became of Ms Cawley’s only child.

“We were walking a tightrope,” she said, accepting that they had no legal standing. “We were and still are powerless.”

She wrote of “the strain of knowing that if it was me who died, Celine would be sorting my three kids”.

“I think Celine would be cross with me for standing by,” she continued. “Celine was always willing to muck in.”

She described her sister as being generous to all her Godchildren, nieces and nephews and always carefully chose their gifts and toys.

“She was a big kid herself and probably got as much fun herself (out of the toys),” she remarked.

“The treacherous lies are overwhelming,” she noted, describing as worst the story Lillis told about the intruder and the lie he told her father about Ms Cawley scratching his face.

“Dad deserves to know the truth,” she wrote. Instead, Lillis had taken advantage of his loyal and kind nature. This was “the worst sin”.

She wrote that despite 13 months of opportunity, there had been a lack of remorse and no apology.

She then described her sister as a fantastic businesswoman, who had an indelible effect on people.

She wrote that on the second day of the trial, she had spotted Ms Cawley’s old maths teacher in the court room.

“She would have been delighted to see her here,” she wrote.

Many school friends also attended, she added.

Ms Coonan thanked the gardaí and the legal team involved by name.

“Your direct passage into heaven is assured,” she told them, suggesting that her sister had probably put St Peter out of a job by now, and would be manning the gates of heaven.

“We shall thank God for having known you,” she wrote finally, and Ms Ring became emotional as she read the lyrics of a Take That song Ms Coonan had quoted: “The stars are coming out tonight. They’re lighting up the skies tonight for you.”

Copy editor Gerry Kennedy told the court that he had known Eamonn Lillis since the 1970s, when they met in UCD.

“I would consider Eamonn one of my closest friends,” he said. “A gentleman, kind considerate, a good listener and a good friend to me.”

He said that in 1980 his only brother had been killed in a car crash in Mexico, and that the support Lillis had given him, his family, and especially his mother would not be forgotten.

“When my first daughter, Eve, was born, he was the only man I wanted as Godfather,” he added. “He was a gentleman in that regard.”

He said he was also asked to be Godfather to Lillis and Ms Cawley’s daughter.

“It was a fantastic honour to be asked,” he said.

He said that he had worked on a number of advertising campaigns with Mr Lillis and Toytown Films.

“I know he misses Celine a lot and would do anything to have her back,” he said. “I’d like to see him given a chance to have a relationship with his daughter as she moves from childhood into adulthood.”

“He’s almost the last person in the world I thought would be here today,” he said, adding that he was not saying that only because he was an old friend. “I genuinely believe that.”

“He’s always been a gentleman, considerate. I believe he still is,” he concluded.

Another old university friend of Lillis gave evidence.

“I’ve known Eamonn Lillis for 34 years,” said Siobhán Cassidy, a teacher. “We met in UCD, where we both studied English literature together.

“My impression of him has never changed,” she said, describing him as “a mild-mannered man, gentle and courteous”.

Brendan Grehan SC, defending, asked her if she had ever seen him to be confrontational.

“Quite the opposite, non-confrontational,” she replied. “He was interested in the human spirit, film and poetry.”

She said that when she had her first child, she also asked Lillis to be Godfather.

“Eamonn has been an excellent Godfather,” she said, describing his selection of gifts for her daughter’s birthdays and degree as perfect.

“The love between him and (his daughter) is evident,” she said, describing his daughter as always to the forefront of his mind.

She concluded by recalling her first thoughts when her husband rang her to say Ms Cawley had died: “My reaction was quite simply: Thank God (their daughter) has Eamonn.”

Mr Grehan told the judge that his client still referred to his wife in the present tense, and described her as his partner in every way.

“She was neither a bully nor a tyrant, but a loving mother and wife,” Lillis said through Mr Grehan.

“His thoughts are for his daughter. They have a very close, loving relationship,” said Mr Grehan. “She’s the only part of Celine he has left.”

“He’s extremely sorry and regretful for what happened and for the lies he told afterwards, especially to the Cawley family, who took him in,” he said.

Mr Grehan asked the court to be mindful of a number of points.

Firstly, he said that the jury had returned a specific verdict of manslaughter without intent.

“The court is effectively dealing with a case of involuntary manslaughter,” he suggested, adding that the intentional element was lacking and this had to be at the forefront of any sentence.

Secondly, he said that his client had never come to garda attention in his 51 years before his wife’s death.

“He has a half century to the good up to that point,” he said, describing his character before that as unblemished. “This was out of character with his previous 50 years.”

Mr Grehan’s third point regarded the media.

“This trial has attracted enormous publicity and continues to and will continue to into the future,” he said. “This has affected everybody across the board.”

He said that in other cases the media attention was generally transient and the accused could sometimes resume a normal existence afterwards.

“In this case it’s unlikely to fade in the short term or the long term,” he said, reminding Mr Justice White that the Court of Criminal Appeal recognised that exposure to the full glare of publicity was something he could consider in sentencing.

Earlier Detective Sergeant Gary Kelly had confirmed that photographers had “staked out” his client’s home since his conviction.

“The media have plagued his home since last week,” said the detective.

He agreed that photographers had been on step ladders and up trees, trying to get photographs of him at home.

They had also followed him and his daughter to horse-riding lessons and followed Lillis and his sister into town one day.

Mr Grehan said a large number of photographers had also followed him on his twice-daily trip to sign on at the local garda station.

“I did see them chase him up the road,” said D Sgt Kelly.

Mr Grehan told the judge that if a person is photographed and named to the extent that Lillis had been, that person could become a pariah in society and suffer additional punishment.

“That is why it has been accepted as a mitigating factor,” he said.

Fourthly, Mr Grehan said his client was now the sole parent of his daughter, but said he wasn’t looking for the judge’s sympathy in this regard.

“(His daughter) is the centre-most victim in this,” he said later.

“I’m not going to seek to use her as a crutch.”

Ms Ring said the DPP took a serious view of Lillis directing gardaí towards a third party, when he named a real man as the possible intruder. She described it as an aggravating factor.

She suggested he also consider the "disregard" he showed to Ms Cawley when he left her unattended after being injured.

“There was no evidence that he made an effort to see to her general health and welfare. He said he didn’t even call out to her,” she said.

Ms Ring confirmed to Mr Justice White that Lillis had never offered a plea to manslaughter. She also said that the moderate force accepted to have been used could not have been accidental.

She described ‘involuntary manslaughter’ as a misleading term and said the DPP rated this case at the upper end of the range of manslaughter.

She said no-one could have control over the publicity but that Lillis might have legal options in the future.

“The resulting publicity is the result of his actions,” she said.

Mr Justice White said that manslaughter sentences ranged from suspended to life in prison.

He said that in this case he needed some time to read some legal judgements along with the victim impact statements and testimonials.

He remanded Lillis in custody and he was taken to Cloverhill Prison for the night.

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