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Killer kept his cool as jury finally delivered verdict

JUST three words transformed Eamonn Lillis from an innocent man to a convicted wife killer. A deathly silence descended as the words "guilty of manslaughter" rang out across the courtroom, and all eyes turned towards the man whose fate had just been sealed.

Ashen-faced, Lillis did not react. There were no tears of sorrow or pain. Nor was there a sigh of relief. Perhaps the only sign that he had even heard the verdict was the abrupt cessation of the nervous pursing of the mouth that had characterised his behaviour in recent days.



Drained

Despite the detached mask, his eyes had closely followed the jury members as they filed in the courtroom, looking visibly drained after nine and a half hours of deliberations.

Their expressions said it all, revealing something of their harrowing and stressful task in deciding whether the man sitting opposite them was in fact responsible for the death of his wife Celine Cawley.

Three female jurors wept openly, their obvious emotion adding to the heavy tension pervading the air.

The verdict was greeted with grim silence. We learned that they had reached their agreement on a 10-2 majority, citing as their reason the fact that the State had not proven Lillis's intent to kill his wife.

At the back of the room, Celine's family remained rigid in their seats. In the minutes leading up to the verdict, the bench reserved for the family had been a hive of nervous activity as bottles of water and tissues were doled out and supportive hugs administered.

Celine's brother Chris had twisted continuously in his seat, covering his face with his hands as prepared to hear the fate of his own brother-in-law.

Beside him, his father Jim hunched in his seat, a picture of vulnerability. He accepted a comforting hand squeeze from his only surviving daughter Susanna.

Yet with the announcement of the verdict, all activity ceased. The Cawley family didn't move, as if compressed into their seats by those three words. They sat still for several minutes, the impact of the decision slowly sinking in. Then slowly, shock gave way to grief as tears pooled in Susanna's eyes. Her chin trembling with emotion, she sank into the arms of her husband Andrew. On the other side of the bench, Chris Cawley comforted his tearful wife Sorcha while their daughter Joanna sobbed quietly.

In the middle, Jim Cawley simply looked aghast, his shoulders crumpling as concerned relatives reached out to comfort him.

They each glanced upwards as the man who had killed their much-loved sister and daughter made his way from the court. Eamonn Lillis kept his head high, gazing unseeingly into the distance as he moved through the crowds.



VIGIL

He did not look towards his sisters Elaine and Carmel, who had maintained a supportive vigil throughout the 14 days of his trial.

The two women had also kept a watchful eye over their brother as they waited out the interminable hours in the Criminal Courts of Justice Complex. At times he had simply rested on a bench, closing his eyes in contemplation. He also managed to get half-way through his book -- Dear Sebastian. Poignantly, it is a collection of letters written by well-known Irish figures at the behest of the late Jordan Ferguson, who wanted to leave words of advice to his nine-year-old son after his death from cancer.

The words must have weighed heavily on the mind of Lillis, who would have been leaving behind a 17-year-old daughter if he had been handed a life sentence for murder.

Instead, he has been granted six days in which to get his affairs in order before being sentenced for manslaughter, his request suggesting that he expects a custodial sentence.

Outside, he moved through the scrum of photographers, defiance in his face as he avoided questions and headed to a waiting car.

Minutes later, Celine's family emerged, a tableau of grief and heartbreak. A visibly stressed Susanna walked arm in arm with her father, his impeccable clothing and jaunty hat failing to mask the pain on his face.

They were joined by a stoic Chris Cawley and his family as they walked away into the dark and wet night. It will be another five days before they see justice meted out to their beloved Celine's killer. Until then, as Chris Cawley remarked, there is nothing more to be said.


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