The family of Cameron Reilly, the 18-year-old who was murdered by a teenager he had been drinking with in a field in Dunleer, Co Louth four years ago, have described Cameron as “the apple of our eye” and said they were served a life sentence the day he was taken from them.
In a victim impact statement on behalf of the family, Cameron Reilly’s uncle Darren Flanagan said the four saddest words in the English language are “what might have been”.
This is something they would always question, he said, adding that although the trial may be over, it is never over for the family.
“We were served a life sentence the day Cameron was taken from us,” he told the Central Criminal Court on Tuesday. “Our hearts were broken, our world collapsed.”
Mr Flanagan said the family never got to say goodbye to Cameron, to give him “one last hug” or to be with him when he took his last breath.
He described the Dundalk Institute of Technology student as a “gentle child” who “never brought a moment’s trouble to anyone”.
He told the court Cameron loved music and attended numerous concerts with his friends. He was “a happy-go-lucky" boy with “absolutely no harm in him whatsoever”.
The teenager’s uncle said on the day before he died Cameron had been in brilliant form because he had just been asked to be godfather to his new baby cousin.
However, just one day later their lives changed forever, and the family found themselves planning a funeral instead of a christening, Mr Flanagan said.
The family are still haunted by the image that unfolded before them of the “lifeless body of Cameron lying on a cold, lifeless slab”. He said he himself is still haunted by the words of Cameron’s mother Tracy at the time: “what did they do to my beautiful child”.
Cameron Reilly was more than just a name in the media, Mr Flanagan told the court. He was a son, a grandson, a cousin a nephew and “so much more than that”. “Our beautiful son. Forever 18.”
Handing down a mandatory life sentence to Aaron Connolly (23) on Tuesday, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said the defendant is young enough to make some use of his life when he emerges from custody but, he added, Cameron Reilly will “never emerge from where Mr Connolly put him on that night”.
Connolly, of Willistown, Drumcar, County Louth had pleaded not guilty to the murder of Cameron Reilly (18) at Shamrock Hill, Dunleer on May 26th, 2018.
A jury unanimously found him guilty of murder on December 15th after just over ten and a half hours of deliberations.
Mr Reilly, a student at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), had been socialising with a group of around 15 friends in a field just outside the town on the night of May 25, 2018. Some of the group went to a local takeaway to get food shortly after midnight before he and Connolly returned to the field.
The teenager’s body was found in the field at Shamrock Hill by a man out walking his dog the following morning.
A postmortem carried out by Chief State Pathologist Linda Mulligan showed Mr Reilly’s cause of death was asphyxia due to external pressure on the neck with no other contributing factors.
During the trial, the court heard that in his initial statement to gardaí, Connolly said he and Mr Reilly went in different directions at the end of the night and after the pair parted, he “never looked back” to see which way Cameron went.
In his garda interviews, Connolly said he could not remember what he was doing during a “missing hour” on the night Cameron Reilly died violently as he had taken a combination of drugs that made him black out.
He told gardaí: "I know I didn’t kill him, I’d know if I killed someone."
Connolly told investigating officers he had taken two grammes of cocaine and half a gramme of MDMA.
The jury also heard that Connolly denied that anything sexual happened between him and Mr Reilly and told gardaí that he was "straight".
However, during the trial, lawyers for Connolly made a formal admission to the court that the accused had oral sex with Mr Reilly on the night he was killed. Connolly claimed that when he left, Mr Reilly was still alive and standing up.