Wednesday 13 December 2017

Death in the morning

It started as a normal domestic row about putting out rubbish or feeding the birds, but within an hour Celine Cawley lay dead in her home. Edel Kennedy traces the events of December 15, 2008

'I presumed Celine would say the same thing so I kept with the story'

ONLY two people know what actually happened that morning -- and one of them is dead.

But it all came down to either mealworms or rubbish.

Depending on whose account you believe, it was one or the other that was the first tiny kink in the chain of events shortly after 9am on December 15, 2008.

But as a result of forgetting to put one of these things out that morning, Eamonn Lillis claims Celine Cawley turned on him and the peace that day -- and the peace of the Lillis and Cawley families forever more -- was shattered.

Lillis himself said the row was sparked because his wife had asked him three days previously to put out mealworms and he'd forgotten. His former mistress Jean Treacy said he told her months later that it was the rubbish he'd forgotten to put out.

Giving evidence during the murder trial, 52-year-old Lillis said that fateful day began as normal. He woke in his downstairs bedroom, did some exercises, and brought his wife a cup of tea in her separate bedroom.

After a "kiss and a cuddle" he dropped their daughter to school. He walked their three dogs and came home.

So far, so normal.


But he told the court that when he returned his wife asked him had he given the mealworms to the robins. He told her he'd forgotten. And that's the point at which it all began.

"She said it was bloody typical of me to keep forgetting things," he recalled in Court 19 of the Central Criminal Court.

"We argued about it back and forth. I shouted some abuse."

He walked away from his angry wife but out of the corner of his eye he saw her getting up off the ground with a brick in her hand. He assumed she had fallen on it.

They began to argue and things then "turned nasty", he admitted. "I went up to her, shoved the brick at her and said why don't you shove this where the sun don't shine," he said in the witness box.

He claims she caught the side of his face as she swung the brick, and he pushed her towards the sliding doors, and then against the corner of the living room window.

"She let an almighty scream," he recalled, adding that this might have been because she had banged her head but he did not see this.

But instead of walking away from each other, the two began to tussle and fell onto the patio.

Things turned even nastier, according to Lillis, and he said at this point she bit his finger. The violent row only ended when she let go.

Lying on the ground, and in some pain, he then noticed she was bleeding and rested her head on his lap. He asked if she was okay and what they were going to tell their daughter.

And here's where the lies began, according to the prosecution in the case.

Lillis suggested they explain their injuries by telling their daughter they had disturbed a robber.

He claimed that, after getting her a towel for her bleeding head, she told him to "F off".

"I didn't see a huge amount of blood on her head. Her hair was thick and black. Her reaction didn't give me the impression that she was seriously hurt," he said.

He said he wrapped his finger in tissue and threw the gloves and paper towels into a plastic bag before going into the living room to stage the robbery for their daughter's benefit.

"I copied what had been robbed from our house before," he said. "I grabbed camera gear."

He noticed the blood on his clothes so he changed and wiped his watch clean.

He said he figured the blood would never wash out of his clothes so he put everything into a black plastic bag, and then into a Rip Curl suitcase.

After noticing the attic door across the landing was open, he put the case in there.

His work done, he went back downstairs and said he called Celine's name -- but she didn't answer.

He said he tried to check her pulse but couldn't find it and dialled 999.

A 999 call played in court heard how he told the operator that there had been a robbery.

"Even then I thought surely she'd be okay. There was no reason that I could think of that she'd go from being okay to seriously injured."

He said he carried out CPR as instructed until the gardai arrived.

"I saw them picking her up and bringing her to the ambulance. I presumed she was okay. I presumed that if someone was dead they were not moved," he said.

And it was at that point that he decided to continue the lie. He told the gardai that they had disturbed an intruder -- and he stuck to that story until the opening day of the murder trial, 13 months later. "I presumed Celine would say the same thing as well so I kept with the story," he said in court.

He said that when he found out his wife had died, he went into complete shock and didn't know what to do.

He admitted he lied and said he became "paralysed" and "didn't see any way out".

Ms Treacy told the court that she was later given a detailed account by her former lover about what had happened.

She had initially arranged to meet him that morning -- but he didn't reply to her texts.

The next day when she learned what had happened she said they shouldn't see each other again until January.

They met again in February, when he insisted on telling her what happened.

"He basically said that Celine asked him to take out the rubbish and he forgot," the 32-year-old told the court. "Seemingly she went mad and hurled abuse. She told him he was a terrible husband, useless."

Throughout the trial the prosecution accused Lillis of telling "lie after lie". It started with a small one, about a burglar, and soon became bigger.

Yesterday, the jury decided that Lillis had lied and was guilty of the manslaughter of his wife.

Irish Independent

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