Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I KNOW it is legal, but that doesn’t make it right. What I am talking about is the release of a man convicted of manslaughter who is then allowed to walk away with more than €1 million in his bank account.

I refer specifically to Eamonn Lillis, who was released from prison last week, having served five years of a seven-year sentence for the manslaughter of his wife, Celine Cawley, whom he beat to death at their family home in December 2008. At the time, he claimed a burglar had broken into the property and killed his wife, but the gardaí proved he had taken a brick and used it to bludgeon her to death following an argument.

The couple’s only daughter had first to contend with the fact that her father had killed her mother, but then came another blow as the couple’s assets had to be divided.

So here you have a man convicted of killing his wife who now has an estimated €1.3 million in his own bank account to kick-start a new life for himself now that he has been released from prison. Not bad when you consider that all who knew the couple generally accept it was his wife who was responsible for amassing the money in the first place.

His daughter tried to contest his right to this money but the courts ruled that he was entitled to it, irrespective of how that came about, so he gets to hold on to the cash.

On top of that, the state paid for both French and Spanish lessons for him while he was in prison, not to mention the costs of his incarceration.

If nothing else, this case highlights a number of shortcomings in the system. First, here is an individual convicted of manslaughter who, because of good behaviour, gets an automatic quarter-reduction of his sentence. Surely the facts of the case and his actions in denying any involvement in the killing should have meant that he was not entitled to an automatic reduction.

There is also the entitlement to the money following the sale of assets. Surely someone must know it is wrong for a husband to receive half the proceeds of the sale of joint assets after he killed his wife following a violent assault.

Finally, someone should add up the cost of first investigating the crime, any legal bills associated with his subsequent trial and the cost of his imprisonment and deduct the total from whatever cash he has on leaving prison.

If the government thinks it is all right to charge elderly people a percentage of the value of their property – usually the family home – as well as a portion of the old-age pension under the Fair Deal arrangement for assisted living, then surely to God someone can come up with a way of charging an ex-prisoner for costs borne by the state.

Will that happen? Perhaps legislation will be introduced regarding the share of assets following such an instance, but I very much doubt if anyone will bother trying to recoup money spent by the state prosecuting a case. When it is not our own money, it is very easy to spend it.

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By Michael Godfrey
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