How Aaron Connolly's lies unravelled to reveal Cameron Reilly's killer

Published date15 December 2022
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
There were phone calls exchanged to plan the night ahead, drinks to be purchased, arrangements about who he would meet, where and when. The field near the Glen Dimplex factory was the venue for an evening of drinking, chat and music followed by the usual trip to the local chipper at the end of the night and then home to bed

Mr Reilly never made it home that night. Instead, at some point between 12.40am and 1.40am on May 26th, 2018, Aaron Connolly, just two weeks older than his victim, violently attacked his friend and – as prosecuting counsel Dean Kelly SC said in his closing speech – left him "dead or dying in that cold field".

It was in that same field that David Shiels, out for an early morning walk with his dog just after 8am the following morning, came across what at first appeared to be the outline of a person sleeping. "I looked up and saw the body. I walked over and said 'hello', thinking it was someone who was drunk and fell asleep," he told the trial.

What Mr Shiels had actually stumbled upon was the body of Mr Reilly, his death a result of asphyxia, either by a chokehold or external pressure to the front of his neck. He said the teenager was lying on his back and there was "discolouring and bruising" on the right-hand side of the face, neck and throat. There were "a lot of scrape marks" on the front of the neck and the deceased's hands were "very white and clean".

"I knew he was dead," Mr Shiels said. A neighbour, Jean Lynch, initiated CPR on Mr Reilly, but his lips were blue and he was "stone cold". Ms Lynch said she observed the deceased's chin area was "scuffed-looking and red". She said she checked for a pulse on his neck and his wrist but she did not feel anything.

"He was very cold," she said. The paramedic who attended the scene, Debbie McCole, said the only injury on the body was neck trauma, with a lot of bruising around his neck. Connolly, the last person to see the teenager alive, told gardaí his friend had been in good form when he left him. They had parted ways near the Beechwood housing estate in Dunleer and, Connolly said, he never looked back to see which way Mr Reilly went. This was the first of what the prosecution called the "constant, fox-like evolution" of lies told by the then 18-year-old to investigating gardaí.

A gathering of friends

During the trial at the Central Criminal Court, which ended with the conviction of Connolly for murder, the jury heard from many of the young people who were present in the field on May 25th, 2018. It was a gathering of friends in the loose sense of the word, with floating groups of alliances. There was drinking on the night and drug-taking too, which initially caused a reluctance for some of those present to come forward and give statements to gardaí.

It was supposed to be an evening of fun, a night, as prosecution counsel said, that should have been notable "only for the absolute banality of the experience".

Instead, it became a night etched in the memory of all the young people present on that fateful evening for all the wrong reasons. Mr Reilly was found dead in that same field just hours after he had been drinking with his killer. Many of Mr Reilly's friends and acquaintances gave evidence in the case, telling the court the teenager had been in great form on the night. The court also heard the teenager had confided in some close friends that he was bisexual, in the months leading up to his death.

Shannon Carroll told the court she and Mr Reilly had been close friends for years and said he had been in "brilliant form" and was "happy and jolly" when she saw him on...

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