Eamonn Lillis has been sentenced to just under seven years in prison for the manslaughter of his wife, Celine Cawley.
Mr Justice Barry White asked the 52-year-old TV ad producer to stand up while he imposed the sentence of six years and 11 months at the Central Criminal Court.
“It’s clear from their verdict that they rejected your contention that you had no legal responsibility,” he said of the jury’s verdict of manslaughter following his three-week murder trial. Lillis had pleaded not guilty to murdering the 46-year-old on December 15, 2008 at their home, Rowan Hill, Windgate Road, Howth.
“Having injured your wife, at least you had the decency to phone emergency services and with their help you tried to resuscitate her,” he said. “As far as I can see, that is the only decent act you committed.”
“Before you made that call, you took time to change your clothing and hide it in the attic, and concocted this story,” he said referring to a lie about an intruder having attacked his wife. “This account was designed to conceal your own involvement. You even went so far as to point your finger at an innocent man.”
Mr Justice White noted that Lillis had continued with this lie, even after being given a number of opportunities by gardaí to tell the truth. He noted that it was only after he was released on High Court bail last January that he told his daughter and Jean Treacy about the row with his wife “on that fateful morning”.
"But should subsequent conduct be considered as an aggravating factor?" asked the judge.
He said he consulted a number of judgements by the Court of Criminal Appeal before deciding that he should have regard to Lillis’s cover-up and lies and the effect they had on the Cawley family. He said that 10 years, therefore, seemed the appropriate sentence.
“It’s quite clear to me from the powerful victim impact report presented by Susannah Cawley that your offensive behaviour has had a devastating effect on people of all ages,” said the judge, mentioning his 80-year-old father-in-law and his 17-year-old daughter.
“I’ve observed the dignified manner in which he’s attended court. I’ve no doubt he’s a gentleman,” he said of Mr Cawley, adding that he also knew there wasn’t a word of exaggeration in his daughter’s victim impact statement, in which she described her father as a gentleman.
“Your own daughter sets out how she’s changed from a 16-year-old girl to a hardened 17-year-old adult,” he said of Lillis’s only child’s victim impact statement.
“Apart from these two extremes of age, also everybody in between has been affected by your conduct,” he said, describing this as significant.
He said that he also had to take Lillis’ personal circumstances into account, including the testimonials given by his friends.
“I accept you’re now 52 and have a previously unblemished record and that this was out of character for you, although I find it hard to reconcile that with your own evidence,” he said, referring to Mr Lillis’s testimony that he shoved a brick in his wife’s face and said: “Shove it where the sun don’t shine.”
“Your expression of sorrow and remorse rings hollow to me and I consider it to be self serving,” he said. “I respect your right to plead not guilty but consider that an offer of a plea to manslaughter would have demonstrated true contrition and remorse.”
He said Lillis’ admission at the beginning of the trial that there was no third party was of no benefit.
“It seems to me that the State would have had no difficulty in convincing the jury that this story regarding the intruder was untrue,” he said.
Mr Justice White said he was conscious that the case had attracted considerable media interest.
“On your release from prison, you’re likely to still be of interest to the media,” he said. “I’m taking that into account.”
“It seems to me that the media have had little or no respect for the privacy or dignity of the Cawley family,” he said, referring to the victim impact statements.
“It’s also clear to me from watching news bulletins that there has been a constant media scrum whenever you enter or leave the building,” he continued. “I consider that to be an affront to human dignity.”
He said he was also conscious of Detective Sergeant Gary Kelly’s evidence and Lillis’ daughter’s statement that she had been ‘hounded’. He said he could only ask that this would cease.
“I call upon the media to respect the privacy of the Cawley family,” he urged.
He said that after balancing the gravity of the offence and Lillis’ own circumstances, he decided that seven years was the appropriate sentence to run from Thursday when he went into custody.
He reduced this by a month when Brendan Grehan SC, defending, asked him to take into consideration the three weeks his client spent in custody after he was charged. He refused leave to appeal.
Lillis immediately left the courtroom through a special door with a prison officer, leaving the Cawley family and his family to hug each other and say their goodbyes.
Ms Cawley’s brother, Chris Cawley, and Susannah Coonan’s husband, Andrew Coonan, later spoke on behalf of the family outside the Criminal Courts of Justice.
Mr Coonan thanked the DPP’s office and the gardai involved, while Mr Cawley thanked the family’s “ wonderful friends and neighbours for being so kind and supportive in giving us both emotional and practical help” in what he described as a very distressing and difficult time for the family.
“Celine was a dynamic, kind, successful, fun-loving, caring person,” concluded Mr Cawley. “She had a beautiful energy, which lit up so many lives, the lives of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.”
“Celine, we love you.”