Karen Harrington found guilty of murder of two-year-old Santina Cawley

The jury took four hours and 46 minutes to return a unanimous guilty verdict
Karen Harrington found guilty of murder of two-year-old Santina Cawley

Olivia Kelleher

A woman has been found guilty of the murder of a two-year-old girl in Cork who sustained 53 catastrophic injuries including fractures to her skull, two fractured ribs, fractures to her right arm and left leg, and bruising to her entire body.

Karen Harrington, of Lakeland’s Crescent in Cork, was on trial for a fortnight at a Central Criminal Court sitting in the city charged with the murder of Santina Cawley in July 2019.

The jury took four hours and 46 minutes to return a unanimous guilty verdict. The seven men and four women on the jury were excused from further service for life.

Ms Harrington was in a relationship with Michael Cawley, the father of the child, at the time of the offence.

The trial was told that Mr Cawley trusted Ms Harrington and had no concerns about leaving his girl with her. The injuries were so devastating that there was no chance of survival for the toddler.

Santina Cawley was found critically injured by her father under a soiled duvet on the morning of July 5th, 2019, at the apartment of his then partner Ms Harrington at 26 Elderwood Park in Boreenmanna Road in Cork.

She was naked and clumps of her hair were found in the apartment. A stud had been ripped from her left earlobe and was located on the floor. Her torn top was also recovered from the scene.

Santina Cawley Provision origin
Santina Cawley was found critically injured by her father under a soiled duvet on the morning of July 5th, 2019

The first garda who arrived at the scene, Garda David Tobin, told of how the two-year-old was lying on a quilt and looked like a child’s doll.

“The best way I can describe it is that her legs were twisted in like a child’s doll. Her eyes were only slightly open. Her hands were lying by her side. Her head was back and she was naked and she had a bruise on her forehead and she was not breathing. I think there was a small bit of blood in her mouth.”

Neighbours had reported hearing an “almighty commotion” coming from the apartment during the night with one neighbour Dylan Olney giving evidence that he had heard Ms Harrington (38) taunting the crying child and telling her to “shut up”. The jury was told that Ms Harrington was “mocking, taunting and terrorising” the child.

Neighbours also reported listening to shouting and roaring from the apartment with Ms Harrington slamming a sliding door 30 to 40 times shouting incoherently: “Everyone wake the f**k up.”

Santina died in the arms of her mother Bridget at Cork University Hospital (CUH) at 9.20am on July 5th despite desperate efforts by her family to save her.

Her father had made the six-kilometre journey from Boreenmanna Road by foot to find out the fate of his daughter. Gardaí told the trial that he was distraught when he found out that Santina was dead.

'I trusted Karen'

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster previously told the court that the fracture to the skull sustained by Santina would have stopped her ability to cry. The child would have lapsed in to a coma.

Dr Bolster gave evidence that Santina died as a result of a traumatic brain injury and upper spinal cord injury coupled with polytrauma and lower limb injuries due to blunt force trauma.

Dr Bolster told prosecution counsel Sean Gillane SC that the blunt force trauma arose when Santina was struck with something or struck against something. She stressed that the injuries sustained by Santina were not consistent with an accidental fall, pointing to the multiplicity of injuries and the fact that they were all over the body of the child.

“They are not accidental but are forcefully inflicted injuries.”

Michael Cawley, the father of the child, also gave evidence in the case. He became emotional and broke down crying in the box when the defence showed him CCTV footage of himself and his daughter Santina shopping in Aldi in Cork the day before she was found critically injured.

Mr Cawley said that he had left Santina with his partner in the past and that the pair had got on well.

I thought it would be okay for me to leave Santina with Karen. I trusted Karen. It was the shock of my life.

“Karen got on brilliant with her. She got on with Santina and Santina would have got on with her. I left her with Karen and a few times and there was never a problem. I thought it would be okay for me to leave Santina with Karen. I trusted Karen. It was the shock of my life.”

The trial had heard that Mr Cawley and Ms Harrington had socialised at the apartment of her friend Martina Higgins at Elderwood Drive on the evening of July 4th. Santina was also present. At 1.25am on July 5th, Ms Harrington had returned to her own flat at 26 Elderwood Park.

Mr Cawley went back to the flat at 3.05am on July 5th but left five minutes later in order to retrieve a forgotten phone at the apartment of Ms Higgins.

When he was told to come back the following day as it was too late to enter, he ended up leaving the complex to go to Cork city centre in a bid to find his cousin.

Mr Cawley said that he would only have been absent for five minutes if he had been able to gain access to his phone. He needed his phone to call his cousin to give him directions to the Elderwood complex.

Mr Cawley was tracked on CCTV at various intervals in the city centre and near the Elderwood complex between 3am and 5am on July 5th as he attempted, without success, to find his cousin who had come from Limerick.

'Screaming and roaring'

Mr Cawley told the jury that when he returned home shortly after 5am he was met outside Ms Harrington’s apartment by her nextdoor neighbour Dylan Olney, who asked if it was his baby was in the company of Ms Harrington inside the flat.

He stated that Mr Olney told him that Ms Harrington had been “screaming and roaring” at the baby. Mr Cawley stated that he was deeply distressed by what he saw when he turned the key to gain access to the property.

He said that he found kitchen chairs on the floor, blood and glass broken in the property. He then found his daughter critically injured and naked under a blanket.

Mr Cawley said when he saw his injured child he asked Ms Harrington to call an ambulance but she “just ran away.”

The emergency services were called and Santina was taken to CUH where she died a few hours later.

Meanwhile, Ms Harrington had also given evidence in the witness box where she vehemently denied any involvement in the murder.

Under cross-examination by Sean Gillane SC for the prosecution, Ms Harrington said that she was not responsible for the murder of the child.

Mr Gillane asked Ms Harrington to “solve the mystery” of what had occurred to Santina. Ms Harrington said she had thought about what had occurred to Santina for three years and had no answer.

She accepted the proposition put forward by Mr Gillane that Santina did not cause the injuries to herself, but when the prosecution counsel said that she was the “only person with her (Santina)” she said "no".

'I don't know anything about it'

Ms Harrington said she had been woken from her sleep in her apartment at 3am on July 5th, 2019 and that a row had "escalated" with her then partner Mr Cawley.

She accepted that he left shortly after and that he left alone, leaving Santina in the apartment. She also agreed that she and Santina were alone for a period of time in the apartment.

Mr Gillane put it to Ms Harrington that when Mr Cawley left, Santina was “alive and uninjured.” Ms Harrington said that she could not confirm that. “Why not?" Mr Gillane asked. “If there were injuries, how could you not have noticed?”

Ms Harrington answered: “I ask myself the same. All I can recall back when I vision Santina, I don’t see any bruises or injuries or blood or anything like that. All the injuries she had I don’t know anything about it.”

Mr Gillane said that in the defendant’s statements to gardaí, she indicated that when Mr Cawley left the apartment at 3am she comforted the child and took care of her. The last she remembered was that Santina was asleep on a duvet in the living room of the property.

Mr Gillane said that if Santina had been injured at that point, Ms Harrington would have seen the injuries.

Ms Harrington conceded that she had not seen anyone else harm the child. She did not answer when Mr Gillane asked her if she heard Santina crying when her ribs were being broken or she was being otherwise injured.

In his closing statement to the jury, defence senior counsel Brendan Grehan said that his client was a person with no history of violence. Her sisters Janice and Michelle also gave evidence where they said that she had taken over the raising of her siblings as a teenager because of family issues.

Santina was truly loved. Her life was short. But remember, it is not the length of days but what we put into it.

The requiem mass of Santina three years ago heard she was a happy child who always made her mother smile and laugh.

Chief celebrant Fr Oscar O’Leary told mourners that Santina had a particular fondness for the Teletubbies.

He said her life may have been tragically short, but she brought happiness to all those who knew her in her two years.

Fr O’Leary said Santina’s mother Bridget had described her daughter as “my angel. She always made me smile and laugh.”

He said: “Santina was truly loved. Her life was short. But remember, it is not the length of days but what we put into it.”

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