Lillis given seven-year sentence

 

Eamonn Lillis has been sentenced to six years and 11 months in jail for the manslaughter of his wife Celine Cawley at their home in Howth, Co Dublin.

The 52-year-old TV advertising director was convicted last Friday of the manslaughter of his wife on December 15th, 2008, at their home on Windgate Road.

After over nine hours of deliberations, the jury found Lillis not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. It said the State had failed to prove intent.

At the Central Criminal Court this morning, Mr Justice Barry White said that, having consulted a number of judgements by the Court of Criminal Appeal, a sentence of 10 years would be appropriate.

However, having considered yesterday’s statements to the sentencing hearing,  he said he was jailing him for seven years. He also said he was taking into account Lillis's previously unblemished character, his age and the intense media coverage surrounding the trial.

Mr Justice White, on an application from Lillis's counsel Brendan Grehan, reduced the sentence to six years and 11 months to take into account the three weeks he had spent in custody last year while awaiting bail.

The sentence runs from yesterday. Leave to appeal was refused.

In his address to the court, Mr Justice White said the media has shown "little or no respect" for the dignity of the Cawley family over the course of the trial and called for their privacy to be respected.

He said "the constant media scrum" that Lillis and the Cawley family encountered as they entered and left the courts complex was "an affront to human dignity".

Speaking to Lillis, he said: "Your expression of remorse rings hollow to me and I consider it to be self-serving in light of the circumstances of the case. 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.”

The judge said it was clear from the verdict the jury rejected Lillis's contention he had no responsibility for his wife's death.

Mr Justice Barry White said he at least "had the decency" to call emergency services and attempt to resuscitate his wife. "That is the only decent act you committed on that morning." The judge said Lillis then persisted to lie to gardaí to conceal his own involvement.

“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.”

The judge said that while the offence was out of character, this was hard to reconcile with Lillis’s evidence that he had told his wife to “shove the brick where the sun don’t shine”.

The judge said he considered it appropriate to have regard to the lies told by Lillis and the consequences they had on the Cawley family when sentencing.

"It is clear to me from the powerful victim impact report presented by Susanna Cawley that your behaviour has had a devastating effect on people of all ages," Mr Justice White added. “From your father-in-law, who is some 80 years of age, down to your own daughter, who is 17 years of age.”

The judge also spoke of the impact everything had had on Lillis' teenage daughter, who described in her victim impact statement how she had "changed from a 16-year-old girl into a hardened 17-year-old".

Speaking of Celine's father James, Mr Justice White said "I've observed the dignified manner in which Mr Cawley has attended this court....I've no doubt he is a true gentleman".

Members of the Cawley family, including Ms Cawley’s father James, sister Susanna and brother Chris, remained silent as the sentence was imposed.

Lillis, who also showed no emotion, was led from the court to begin his sentence at Wheatfield Prison.

Outside the court, Chris Cawley paid a tearful tribute to his sister.

“Celine was a dynamic, kind, successful, fun-loving and caring person,” Mr Cawley said. “She had a beautiful energy that touched so many lives, the lives of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

“Celine, we love you.”

At a hearing yesterday, the court was told that two victim impact statements had been presented, one by the couple's 17-year-old daughter and the second by Ms Cawley’s sister, Susanna.

Only the second was read to the court. In it, she made repeated references to Lillis, though only once mentioning him by name. She referred to the “treacherous lies”, which she said were “overwhelming”.

“The worst had to be the one Eamonn told us of the intruder and of Celine’s last moments, to my wonderful, honourable 80-year-old dad, when he alleged she pulled her fingers down his face. Whatever about the rest of us, Dad deserves to know the truth about the advantage that was taken of his total loyalty. The lack of remorse is also hard to credit despite 13 months of opportunity to at least apologise to [Lillis and Celine Cawley's daughter] and my father. But no such apology has been forthcoming.”

In the statement, read by State prosecutor Mary Ellen Ring, Susanna Cawley also referred to the “tightrope” the family have been obliged to walk in their efforts to secure the financial and residential future for [the daughter].

“We are all here for her but we were and still are absolutely powerless. Every avenue we have tried to go down, we find that we have no legal entitlement.”

Speaking on behalf of Lillis, defence counsel Brendan Grehan said his client was “extremely sorry and regretful” for what had happened and for the lies he told, in particular to Ms Cawley’s family “who took him in afterwards”. He still spoke of his wife in the present tense: “He loves her very much and will love her for the rest of his life. Contrary to reports, she was neither a bully nor a tyrant.” Lillis is also fearful of the consequences of his actions for his daughter now and in the future, said counsel.

Giving character references on behalf of Lillis, advertising copy-writer Gerry Kennedy, and Siobhan Cassidy, a teacher, whom Lillis met more than 30 years ago while a student in UCD, each said they had chosen him to be godfather to their first-born children and that he was an excellent godfather.