Father of Santina Cawley tells trial how he tried to speak to toddler when he found her, but she wasn't responding

38-year-old Karen Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, denies the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, on July 5th 2019.
Father of Santina Cawley tells trial how he tried to speak to toddler when he found her, but she wasn't responding

Michael Cawley, father of Santina Cawley, at the Central Criminal Court hearing in Cork. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

The father of two-year-old Santina Cawley described returning to the home of the woman accused of murdering her in the early hours of the morning and finding her under a blanket in the blood-stained room, not looking right, and he knelt down beside her and said, “Santina please, Santina please say something please.” 

Michael Cawley told Mr Justice Michael McGrath and the seven men and five women of the jury at the Central Criminal Court in Cork that he left Santina down on a folded blanket beside where the murder accused, 38-year-old Karen Harrington was lying on a couch. He was in a relationship with Karen Harrington at the time and said that he left the apartment to look for his cousin who had contacted him earlier about travelling to Cork from Limerick.

“I made a decision to go to town and look for my cousin. I started jogging. I thought I would be faster,” Michael Cawley said. He looked for his cousin but could not find him in the early hours and walked back to Karen Harrington’s at Elderwood Park on Boreenmanna Road.

Two-year-old Santina Cawley who died at Elderwood Apartments, Cork on July 05, 2019. Pic from Provision
Two-year-old Santina Cawley who died at Elderwood Apartments, Cork on July 05, 2019. Pic from Provision

He said he met Karen’s neighbour who came out to him and said, “Karen is gone mad, screaming at your baby. Is that your baby?” The neighbour said he could hear Karen screaming and the baby crying. Mr Cawley said he did not worry at that stage and entered the apartment.

“I could see kitchen chairs on the floor. I could see blood on the floor near the sink. I could see broken glass on the ground. I could see Karen on the couch lying down. I could see the blanket where Santina was put. The blanket was over her. She was under the blanket in the same spot. I said to Karen, ‘What is going on?’ “I pulled the blanket off her. Santina was naked – no clothes on her. She was wearing clothes when I left. Santina did not look right in the face. One of her eyes was half-closed, the other eye opened. There was a bruise on the left side of her forehead.

“I checked her pulse. She was warm. I tried to speak to her. I was down on my knees – ‘Santina please, Santina please say something please’. She wasn’t responding.

“I asked Karen, ‘What is going on with my baby?’ She (Karen Harrington) ran down the stairs… The same neighbour said he called the guards. I said would you come in and take a look at her for me. He said, ‘I am not going into that house,’” Michael Cawley said.

He said that later when ambulance paramedics and gardaí arrived at the scene he saw Karen Harrington with another woman. Michael Cawley told prosecution senior counsel Seán Gillane, “I went straight to her. I said, ‘Is that my daughter’s blood all over the kitchen?’ She said, ‘No, that’s my blood from my foot.’ The other person said, ‘Karen wouldn’t touch a fly’. I would have said, ‘Who are you?’ She said, ‘You will know who I am soon.’” He took this as some kind of threat to his life from the woman with Karen Harrington. “I am looking at my daughter fighting for her life. And now I am being threatened for my life,” Michael Cawley said.

Direct evidence

Earlier in his direct evidence he said that his marriage had ended and that he was minding Santina as a full-time single dad, spending every day with each other. He said Santina was the baby of the family. Originally from Ennis, County Clare, he lived in Cork from 2006. He and Karen Harrington got into a relationship in December 2018 and stayed with each other at her place on Boreenmanna Road and his apartment at Grattan Street. He said Karen got on great with Santina.

That night the three of them were together in another apartment at Elderwood, where Karen’s friend Martina Higgins lived with her partner, Eric Okunala. He said he and Karen and Martina were drinking. Mr Cawley said the mood was OK until Eric asked Martina what was the occasion for drinking, and Mr Cawley also asked Karen what the occasion was for drinking. He said Karen Harrington did not “respond much” to that but left the apartment and went to her own home.

He said Eric threw the drink from a glass into Martina’s face at one stage. He said he left the apartment with Santina and went back to Karen’s where she was lying on the couch. He folded up a blanket for Santina to sleep on it and he went into town to look for his cousin, returning later to find what he described in evidence.

38-year-old Karen Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, denies the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, on July 5th 2019.

Opening the trial, Mr Gillane told the jury how Santina was found with critical injuries at Ms Harrington’s duplex apartment at Elderwood Park shortly after 5am on the morning of July 5 2019 and rushed by ambulance to Cork University Hospital.

Cross-examination

Defence senior counsel Brendan Grehan commenced his cross-examination of Michael Cawley. Mr Grehan asked the witness about a broken femur sustained by the late Santina Cawley earlier in her life. Mr Cawley confirmed this and said he did not know how the fracture of her thighbone occurred. He said she was two years and two months old at the time of her death.

He denied a suggestion that he had been keen to have someone other than himself minding Santina in the future and he said that was not true and that it had been a privilege to mind her.

Asked if he called Karen Harrington names that night in July, alleging that she was having affairs with foreigners she met in a casino, and that this was why she went home to her own apartment. He said he could not remember saying that to her.

Mr Grehan asked him if he took off his shirt to fight Eric Okunala that night. He said he might have taken off his shirt but did not call him a rat for calling the guards and did not run at him with a 10 kg weight plate, as suggested by Mr Grehan.

The trial continues.

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