Cork murder trial: Prosecution says case is about 'focused assessment of what happened to Santina Cawley that morning'

The defence said that if there was a doughnut with a hole in the middle of the case in terms of the evidence in the trial, it was still up to the prosecution to prove the case and that they had not done so.
Cork murder trial: Prosecution says case is about 'focused assessment of what happened to Santina Cawley that morning'

Karen Harrington at the Central Criminal Court in Cork earlier this week. Picture Dan Linehan

The prosecution in the Santina Cawley murder trial has accused Karen Harrington of giving a lot of peripheral details about the night the two-year-old lost her life but leaving a massive hole in the middle of her account.

The prosecution also said the notion that the infant’s father had any responsibility for what happened needed to be dispelled for once and for all.

The defence said that if there was a doughnut with a hole in the middle of the case in terms of the evidence in the trial, it was still up to the prosecution to prove the case and that they had not done so.

Prosecution senior counsel Seán Gillane said, “There is a boil to be lanced in the case – a cloud to be dispelled – something that just hangs in the case, and it is about Michael Cawley (Santina’s father). No one has directly suggested he is responsible for any of this. If someone wanted to say that they should say it directly – not least to him.

“But it has not been said. But it cannot be said by wink and nudge and hint. It needs to be dispelled as it just hangs there.

“For any father, every day of their lives presents us with different ways to fail. Mr Cawley may wish he has done 101 things differently. He may wish he never went to Number 30 (the apartment where he and Karen argued after drinking). He may wish he never went to Number 26 (the accused woman’s apartment) but these things happen. The fact that they happen does not make him responsible for this offence.

“This is not a morality play about drinking or smoking or children being up late. That is not what the case is about. It is a narrow, focused assessment of what happened to Santina Cawley that morning.” 

Mr Gillane said there was no real dispute between the parties about what happened up to 11pm on July 4 when Michael and Karen and Santina were all present in Martin Higgins’s apartment at Number 30. “Santina is well, uninjured and in good form. No doubt, some class of argument occurs.

“What you can be sure of in terms of the spine of the case is that she (Karen) leaves Number 30 at 1.25am… A lot is happening in Number 30, to which she is not privy, she is not there.

“At 3.01am Mr Cawley is leaving Number 30. He does appear to have a buggy. He certainly has Santina. Santina is certainly uninjured at this time. At 3.05am a figure that can only be Michael Cawley is on the open stairwell. He appears to have a buggy. He approaches Number 26, with a light coming on there at 3.06. Lest there is any doubt, Karen Harrington said he came back.

“He says he put Santina down. Ms Harrington was arguing. He has left by 3.10am. He was there for minutes. There is not a screed or hair’s breadth of evidence that he caused any of those injuries during that time. Santina Cawley is alive, uninjured and well.” 

Mr Gillane referred to further CCTV evidence of Michael Cawley going back to Martina Higgins’s apartment, looking, unsuccessfully for his mobile phone and that he does not arrive until 5.08am with numerous CCTV cameras capturing his movements throughout Cork city in the intervening two hours.

“What happens at 3.19? You heard Karen Harrington slamming the door, shouting incoherently, culminating in a cri de Coeur – ‘Everybody, wake the f*** up’. For certain sure she is angry… She is slamming the door so much the runner comes off it."

Dylan Olney, a neighbour, hears her shouting, “I’ll show them.” 

The prosecution senior counsel said, “Mr Olney hears almighty thumping… and her banging the door… at 4.31. Mr Olney rings the guards about Number 26. You have heard him tell you why he made the call – he hears a child crying, the child is being taunted. It is making the crying worse. He hears the child being told to shut up.” 

Mr Gillane said this evidence established two basic facts – that at this time Karen Harrington is awake and Santina is alive. 

"That is undoubted. 4.52am, the guards arrived, they go to that apartment. They can excite no reaction by banging on the door, banging on the window – why is that? Why can the guards not get a reaction? You could hear a pin drop. Mr Olney or the guards had not got the slightest intimation of the horror that happened. That is the time that Santina falls silent."

He said Santina’s blood was found on leggings belonging to Karen Harrington, out of which she had changed, and that no blood of any kind was found on Michael Cawley’s clothes.

“Polytrauma is a word that has depressing applicability here. It just simply means – everywhere. And don’t forget what Dr Bolster (pathologist) said, once the head injuries occurred she was not capable of crying. So I say to you that after Mr Olney heard the crying those head injuries occurred."

Addressing Karen Harrington’s position in the face of the evidence, he said, “There is this doughnut-shaped account consisting of extensive peripheral details with a massive hole in the middle. She seems unable to utter a single syllable in terms of what happened to Santina Cawley.

“It is incredible that this is so, given that she says she settled, her, took off her clothes (because she was hot) and lay down beside her. She says she did not notice any of the injuries. She has not noticed the child is injured from head to toe.

“Michael Cawley trusted her (the accused). He had no reason to believe harm would come to that child.

“When you stand back from the case and look at the evidence, there is only one conclusion – Karen Harrington is guilty of the murder of Santina Cawley.” 

Defence closing arguments

Brendan Grehan defence senior counsel said, “The evidence is presented as a deluge you cannot resist. Her position is that she did not murder Santina. That has been her position. The fact that she cannot explain what happened is not enough. She cannot explain – she has not made an attempt to explain it.

“What she does say is she did not do this because she could not do this. I say her character does matter, that she is a woman in her 30s with no history of violence.

“A lot of people, including Michael Cawley, vouched to her caring nature with children.

“It is a harrowing case – anytime a child is killed. This is a case of polytrauma. Karen Harrington does not accept she is responsible for causing any of those injuries.

“He (Michael Cawley) clears off and leaves Santina and goes on walkabout for two hours. I am not suggesting Michael Cawley did anything wrong. Karen Harrington does not have to prove that someone else does something.

“The fact that she cannot explain it – or that there is a doughnut in the case – the prosecution still have to prove the case. Three years down the line she is absolutely insisting she did not harm Santina Cawley. She did not harm any child or anyone.” 

Mr Grehan said if it was that Dylan Olney was concerned about a child rather than disturbed by noise in general then it is surprising he did not say that to the gardaí. Mr Grehan said it was now being presented by the prosecution that Mr Olney’s concern was about a child.

“If there was any suggestion of concern about a child they (gardaí) simply would not have walked away the way they did,” he said.

“She (Karen Harrington) faces a deluge of evidence but says she did not kill Santina.

“Maybe you (the jury) were expecting forensics to put it beyond doubt but not a bit of it, there is no forensics, like material under her nails that put it beyond doubt. There is no forensic evidence that makes the case the prosecution wants to make.

“There is no scene identified in the apartment where Santina suffered this damage. What is lacking is the forensic link. It just is not there.

“She accepts the evidence ‘points at me’ but she insists she did not do it. The lack of forensics, her previous character – you should be left with a doubt in terms of the prosecution case. I am asking you to acquit Karen Harrington.” 

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 trial continues.

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