Santina Cawley murder trial: Accused denied harming toddler in garda interview

38-year-old Karen Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, denies the murder of Santina Cawley at Elderwood Park, Boreenamanna Road, on July 5, 2019.
Santina Cawley murder trial: Accused denied harming toddler in garda interview

Karen Harrington arrives at Cork Court. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts

The pathologist who examined the body of two-year-old Santina Cawley believed the nature and extent of injuries to the child – including bruises all over her body and a fractured skull – were inflicted by force rather than as a result of an accident.

Assistant state pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster, said the cause of the child’s death was traumatic brain injury and upper spinal cord injury together with polytrauma and lower limb injury due to blunt force trauma.

And, in her final memo of interview with detective gardaí, the judge and jury heard how the accused denied taunting the child in the early hours of the morning at a time when it was allegedly only the two of them – the accused and the deceased – in the apartment.

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

The last memo of interview Karen Harrington had with gardaí was read to the judge and jury. In it, she is shown photographs of evidence and reminded of different witness statements. She was accompanied by her solicitor, Eddie Burke.

“I did not murder Santina Cawley. I did not murder, I did not harm no one, like. Like especially not…” the accused said, but the sentence was not completed. 

There followed a series of questions and answers.

“Can you see how all the evidence is coming together?” She replied, “It is coming to me.” 

“These pictures don’t lie. These pictures are telling a story. The only person who needs to tell us exactly what happened is you – you were there.” 

She replied, “Em, I was there, I have no recollection. I did not harm her, I didn’t, like.” 

“Can you see where the evidence is going? You are the one.” Karen Harrington cried, according to the memo of interview, and said, “Jesus… I can see where it is leading to. It is just I don’t know. Oh f***ing hell… I wouldn’t know how to harm a child, to murder a child.” 

“Evidence suggests otherwise.” She replied, “I see it. I can see it.” 

“You were the only person in the apartment after Michael (Santina’s dad) left. They are your words. You are the only person there. You say she was alive then. Michael left – she was alive then?” 

She replied, “Yeah.” 

It was put to her again by detectives that she was the only one in the apartment with Santina and she replied, “Oh God,” and the memo noted that she sobbed.

Detectives suggested that photos of the crime scene and witness statements painted a picture of madness in the apartment and it was put to her, “You were taunting a two-year-old defenceless child?” She replied, “No way. I wouldn’t hurt a child, like.” 

When a recording of her shouting and slamming a door on the morning in question was played to her, she said, “I am going mad – make everyone wake up – I have no memory of that.” When the suggestion of taunting was put to her again, she said, “I did not taunt no one.” 

“What is the evidence saying to you – I can tell you what it is saying to us. You are the only one in the apartment. As you said, you were gone mad.” She replied, “Oh Jesus Christ.” At one stage she is described as howling and then saying, “I wasn’t taunting the child. No reason to be taunting the child. I didn’t harm no child, like. I am around children all my life… I never in my life harmed no one, not to mind a baby, like.” 

Pathologist evidence

Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and the seven men and four women of the jury also heard evidence from Dr Bolster. (One juror was excused last week).

The assistant state pathologist found evidence of a severe traumatic brain injury that would have resulted in the child going into a deep coma.

Dr Bolster said the child suffered polytrauma and considerable injuries, and on post-mortem examination found injuries throughout the body surface.

Fractures were found to the upper right arm, lower left femur, to ribs close to the backbone and to the skull.

“The pattern of injuries were not consistent with a simple fall or indeed an accident. There were multiple different injuries and (indications of) facial trauma. In my view, these are non-accidental – forcefully inflicted injuries.

“Following inflicting of these injuries – in particular of the head – this child would not have been able to cry,” Dr Bolster said.

The pathologist found that traumatic brain injury and polytraumatic fractures were consistent with blunt force trauma. She said this can be caused by a blunt weapon or being by being struck against a hard surface.

Assistant State Pathologist Margaret Bolster arrives at Cork Court. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts
Assistant State Pathologist Margaret Bolster arrives at Cork Court. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts

In other words, she was “struck with something or struck against something,” the pathologist stated. She favoured the view that injuries were caused by impact on to a hard surface rather than with a weapon.

As well as multiple bruising throughout the child’s body from forehead to feet, the pathologist found “a complex fracture of the skull… and a ten-centimetre displaced portion of bone.” 

Under cross-examination by defence senior counsel Brendan Grehan, Dr Bolster said of the skull fractures, “There was more than one impact to the head. I cannot count the number of impacts.

“Was it one or two?” Mr Grehan SC asked. She replied, “Two plus plus.” 

Mr Grehan asked the pathologist what she could say about the timing of the fractures. She replied, “They were all recent. There was no way the child was walking around with these fractures.” 

Mr Grehan referred to the pathologist’s evidence about the head injuries making it impossible for the child to cry. Dr Bolster said, “Once the head injuries were inflicted, she would have been in a coma.” 

As well as a previous left femur fracture – caused by a fall - which had healed there was a fresh fracture to the same thigh bone, according to the pathologist.

The trial continues.

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