Sunday 4 December 2016

The jury learns all about blood

Evidence about how Celine Cawley was found lying prompted the recall to the stand of the pathologist, writes Abigail Rieley

Published 24/01/2010 | 05:00

HEAD wounds bleed profusely. It's a fact the jury in the Eamonn Lillis trial will take away with them. They've seen photographs of the large pool of blood left on the decking where Celine Cawley died.

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They know the difference between airborne and contact staining, and how to spot a diluted blood stain. They have heard Mr Lillis describe how his jeans were soaked in blood when his injured wife laid her head on his lap.

Forensics featured heavily in the second week of the trial. A combination of blood spatter analysis, DNA evidence, and the post-mortem report presented a vivid picture of Celine's final struggle. Last Friday, Mr Lillis took the stand in his own defence and described the violent row that left him injured and his wife dead. The deputy state pathologist, Dr Michael Curtis, told the court that Celine died from a combination of three head wounds and restricted oxygen due to obesity and an enlarged heart. He explained that the wounds would have concussed her, leaving her unconscious. This would have meant she was unable to move as her heart struggled to cope with oxygen starvation.

He said that in his opinion the most likely sequence of the wounds was that someone had struck her on the head, causing her to fall onto her front, and then hit her twice more. The head wounds would have bled profusely and she would have become starved of oxygen. If she had been left in this position she would have been unable to breathe properly. He made the point that she would probably not have died if she had received prompt medical treatment.

Dr Curtis told the court that he had been told by a garda that Celine Cawley had been found lying on her front. However, previous evidence -- from a 999 operator who took Lillis's emergency call -- said she was lying on her side. Dr Curtis agreed with defence counsel Mr Brendan Grehan that if she had been lying on her side the risk of oxygen starvation was lower, although this was still a danger for the obese. Before Lillis gave evidence, the Deputy State Pathologist was recalled to the witness box. The prosecution had made inquiries overnight. None of the gardai involved in the case had recollected telling the pathologist that Celine Cawley had been found "face down" on the patio.

Dr Curtis dismissed the account Mr Lillis had given his former mistress, Jean Treacy, in which he described his wife slipping on the icy decking but bouncing up "like a beach ball". Quite apart from the fact a human being could not bounce like a beachball, or any other kind of ball, Dr Curtis told the court that two of the three head injuries were in the wrong place to have come from a fall. Celine had three distinct head injuries.

There was one towards the

front of her head, a couple of inches above her left ear. Another was on the right side, higher up towards the top of the scalp. The third wound was also on the right, on the bulging occipital lobe at the back of the skull. This was the only wound, he said, that was a typical fall injury.

Dr Curtis told the court that he doubted that the three head wounds had been received at the same time, and that Celine's other injuries were not consistent with three separate falls. As well as the lacerations to her head, Celine also had bruises and scrapes on other parts of her body. Among others there was a large graze to the side of her face, a small bruise just below her left shoulder-blade, and a cluster of small oval bruises on the front of her right shoulder.

Last Friday, Mr Lillis gave a detailed account that included Celine banging her head three separate times. He told the silent courtroom that the row had started over his forgetting to put out food for the robin in the garden. He said he walked away from Celine out on to the decking and she followed him to continue the row. He was turned away from her when she fell, he said. But when he turned round she was getting up, rubbing the back of her head. She had a brick in her hand. He grabbed the brick and made to walk away. But he said she would not let the row drop. Mr Lillis told the court the row continued after that and got "extremely vocal and nasty". He told the court the row was the worst they'd ever had. Over the course of their marriage there had been spats but nothing like this.

They were both incredibly angry, he said. He was jabbing her shoulder with his finger and they were both shouting and screaming. He said Celine was swinging the brick at him but he didn't think she meant to hit him.

She caught him on the side of the face. The jury have already been shown photographs of Mr Lillis taken by gardai later that day. In them his face is a mass of bruises and scrapes. There is a bump on his forehead, another bruise lower down on his cheek bone and long scratches across the right side of his face, both above and below the eye. He told the court that he got extremely angry when Celine hit him with the brick and pushed her back towards the two folding doors into the kitchen. As he tried to grab the brick from her his left glove, which was old and torn, it flew off his hand.

He said as he grabbed for the brick again he caught his wedding ring finger on it and it tore the nail off. It was bleeding heavily but he didn't notice at the time. He said he pushed Celine backwards again "quite hard" into the corner of the window of the living room to the right of the double doors.

This area of wall featured strongly in the forensic evidence. An area of blood spatter, tiny droplets of airborne blood caused by an impact on wet blood, was found about five feet up the wall not far from the living room window. Forensic scientist Dr Stephen Doak told the court that the blood belonged to Celine, and suggested that she had been injured very close to the wall. The broad pattern of the splatter suggested the blood had come from her head. There was also a swipe mark in the blood, as if her head had been dragged across the pebble-dashed wall.

Mr Lillis told the court he couldn't say if Celine had hit her head on the corner of the window but she had let out an almighty scream. He grabbed her arm again and she hit him a second time with the brick.

They wrestled for the brick, moving away from the wall and across the decking. Mr Lillis said he had caught his wife's wrist as she raised her arm against him, fending him off. He slipped on the decking and fell, bringing her down with him. He said that as they fell -- him to his knees, her onto her back -- his other glove fell off and landed under Celine. They landed half on the decking and half on the patio, where crime scene photos show a large pool of Celine's blood.

He was kneeling half across her, he said, and his immediate rage had gone in the shock of falling. He went to get up but as he did, Celine bit the little finger on his right hand. Garda photographs show the finger bruised front and back. Mr Lillis said she wouldn't let go and moved her head from side to side as she bit down.

He told the court he was shouting at her to let go and used the heel of his left hand to push her forehead. When this didn't make her let go, he said he pushed her face quite hard to the ground to stop her moving. Eventually she opened her mouth and let go. Mr Lillis told the court he picked up the brick, which had fallen near Celine's head and threw it out of the way. Celine seemed quiet or dazed so he got her to rest her head on his lap. She only stayed there for a few seconds, he said, before she sat up again. He said he could see blood on the back of her head but didn't think there was much as it was difficult to tell through her thick hair.

He got up and fetched some kitchen roll and a tea towel for her to hold to her head, then got a black plastic bag from the kitchen and picked up the blood stained things from outside. Drops of blood were found on the steps up to the double doors. Dr Doak told the court the pattern suggested they had come from a thin object, such as a finger or a brick. Mr Lillis told the court he put the kitchen roll and the tea towel in the bin bag, as well as the black gloves and the rubber gloves which had also fallen off in the struggle, He then went upstairs to give the dust time to settle. After fetching some camera equipment from the living room in an effort to mock up a robbery to explain their injuries to their daughter, he went upstairs.

He went into the bathroom first and washed himself at the sink then went into his bedroom to get changed. He said that his jeans and v-neck were too bloodstained to wash so he threw them into the bin bag. He also threw in his boxer shorts and his socks. His T-shirt and his shoes he put away in the wardrobe and he put his watch on the bedside table. Then he took the black plastic bag and the camera equipment and put them in a small suitcase which he put in the attic.

Gardai would later find the suitcase under boxes of children's toys and books. DNA examination of the contents found the jeans and jumper stained with Celine's blood. The rubber gloves were wet with her blood and also had traces of Mr Lillis DNA inside. An examination of the clothes Mr Lillis had put back in the wardrobe found more blood staining. The black Y3 boots he had been wearing had both contact and airborne bloodstains, and DNA expert Dr Hillary Clarke told the court that the airborne stains on the boots showed they had been close to Celine when she was injured.

The Breitling watch found on the bedside table had been wiped clean of blood but traces remained in the bevel of the glass and in the clasp. Celine's blood and tissue were found in the back of the clasp.

Mr Lillis told prosecution counsel Mary Ellen Ring that he had not wiped the watch clean or washed it. He hadn't noticed any blood on it when he took it off. The clothes he had given gardai were also stained on the inside with Celine's diluted blood.

Dr Clarke told the court the only way this could have happened was if Mr Lillis had pulled on his jumper when his skin was still wet from washing off his wife's blood. She commented that she would have expected his clothes to be more bloodstained if he had been giving his wife CPR.

Mr Lillis will continue his evidence tomorrow.

Sunday Independent

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