Santina Cawley's mother: 'I wonder was she looking for me in those last moments?'

The mother of two-year-old murder victim Santina Cawley is left with questions for the 38-year-old woman who is starting a life sentence for murdering her infant daughter.
Santina Cawley's mother: 'I wonder was she looking for me in those last moments?'

Bridget O'Donoghue, mother of Santina Cawley,   after the verdict was announced in Cork. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

The mother of two-year-old murder victim Santina Cawley is left with questions for the 38-year-old woman who is starting a life sentence for murdering her infant daughter.

Bridget O’Donoghue said, “I continuously ask myself how someone could be so cruel to a two-year-old – a soft and gentle soul.

Two-year-old Santina Cawley.
Two-year-old Santina Cawley.

“Just how can you hurt a baby like this?

“I wonder was she looking for me in those last moments?

“What was Santina thinking and feeling during her terrible death?” 

Karen Harrington arrives at court on Anglesea Street Cork on Friday 13th May 2022. Picture: Larry Cummins
Karen Harrington arrives at court on Anglesea Street Cork on Friday 13th May 2022. Picture: Larry Cummins

These awful questions were asked by Ms O’Donoghue in her victim impact statement as Karen Harrington was convicted of murder.

“I feel angry at the accused, Karen Harrington, who murdered my baby,” Ms O’Donoghue said.

Michael Cawley – Santina’s dad – is haunted by the sight of her under a blanket when he returned to his then girlfriend’s apartment on Boreenmanna Road.

 Michael Cawley at the Central Criminal Court in Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Michael Cawley at the Central Criminal Court in Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

“Santina was brutally murdered. 

"The worst thing was finding her disfigured body under a blanket. I will be haunted by this horror for the remainder of my life. This is beyond words, I have no words. 

"The trial is a difficult process, having to sit and listen to graphic details of what happened to Santina, but it is a necessary one.” 

Judge sympathised with parents

Mr Justice Michael MacGrath expressed his condolences to both parents as he jailed Harrington for life for murder.

He said, “The murder of Santina Cawley – a defenceless two-year-old child is truly shocking. 

"It goes against nature for parents to bury a child but to lose a child in these circumstances is beyond description – the extent of the terror to which Santina was subjected and the brutal nature of her death.

“I have no doubt Santina will continue to live long in the memory of those who knew and loved her. She will continue to be loved by her family and friends.

“It cannot have been easy for Michael Cawley to tell us what he saw in the apartment when he returned – the great courage and dignity he displayed giving evidence in the trial.”

Gardaí sought justice for Santina 

 Detective Inspector Danny Coholan, the senior investigating officer in this murder case, said, “The murder of Santina Cawley has had a profound impact on Santina’s extended family and across the community.

“Justice for Santina was always the ultimate goal for the team since her murder on July 5 2019. This was a particularly emotive case for the members who attended the scene and for the investigation team, many having children of a similar age.

“Santina was always in our thoughts. We would like to again express our sympathies to Santina’s family and An Garda Síochána will continue to support them as they continue to grieve for Santina.” 

Verdict

The jury returned to Courtroom 6 at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork at 3.45 this afternoon.

The registrar asked the eleven jurors if they had reached a verdict on which all of them were agreed. The jury foreman said they had. 

The registrar then stated, “You say the accused, Karen Harrington, is guilty.” 

There was no visible reaction from the accused when the guilty verdict was handed down.

Parents, Bridget and Michael, wept as the verdict was announced.

Defence senior counsel Brendan Grehan said he had no instructions to say anything on Karen Harrington’s behalf as she had denied carrying out the murder.

In what was the most chilling moment of cross-examination in the case, prosecution senior counsel Seán Gillane asked the accused during the trial, “Did you hear the child crying as the hair was torn from her head. 

"Did you hear her crying as her lip was split? Crying as her ribs were broken? Did you hear any of that? 

"Is Mr Olney (neighbour Dylan Olney) making it up when he says he hears the child crying and hears you taunting her.

“At 4.30, Dylan Olney rang the guards. He said (in evidence in court) he heard Santina crying. Is he making that up?” 

Karen Harrington replied, “I am not saying he is making that up. I don’t know… I don’t know where Dylan is coming from by saying that at 4.30 Santina is crying.” 

As for the person – sometimes described in murder trials as the silent witness – Santina’s mother brought her to life in words: “She loved her rhymes, her cartoons and Barney. 

"She loved her trips to town with me and her Nana on a Wednesday. She would hop into the buggy and knew the routine. She was very cute for her age. 

"She was clever and very bright. She knew all the names of the Teletubbies and was a happy child.

“She had an old soul. She seemed to be here before. She brought so much joy to our family and her brothers and sister adored her. She was very soft and gentle yet was hardy, determined and a little fighter.” 

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