Hundreds of hours of footage established that Santina Cawley (2) was alone with her murderer on fatal night in a Cork apartment
When it came down to it, convicted child killer Karen Harrington ultimately had no answer to the critical data supplied by g arda investigators.
While insisting she had no idea as to how little Santina Cawley (2) had suffered horrific injuries in her Cork apartment, Harrington was silent as to how hundreds of hours of CCTV footage, carefully harvested by gardaí, showed she was the only person in her home with the child at the precise time the toddler was beaten to death.
The CCTV footage not only indicated she was alone with Santina in Apartment 26 Elderwood Park, off Cork’s Boreenmanna Road, for two hours — but it also confirmed Santina’s father, Michael Cawley (37), was, as he had always insisted, away from the apartment between 3.10am and 5.11am on July 5, 2019.
The cameras showed absolutely no hint of any mysterious stranger who might have sneaked in and attacked the child while the defendant slept on the couch after she had been drinking and smoking cannabis over the previous six hours.
As prosecutor Sean Gillane SC argued throughout the trial, the forensic and CCTV evidence led to only one person: Karen Harrington.
Forensic and electronic evidence was key to a Central Criminal Court jury unanimously convicting Harrington of murder after a four-week trial. Harrington was emotionless as she was sentenced to life in prison and neither expressed remorse nor offered any explanation as to the reason for the horrific killing.
There were no answers offered as to how a woman who described herself as caring and who helped mind her own younger siblings could have unleashed such appalling violence against a helpless child. Santina suffered a total of 53 injuries — 49 external and four internal.
The little girl described as “cute, soft, gentle, innocent and defenceless” died from a traumatic brain injury and severe spinal cord injury after most likely being struck against something. She had a complex skull fracture as well as fractures to her ribs and fragmenting fractures to her arm and leg.
When discovered by her father, she was naked and blood-spattered on a filthy duvet on the floor. One of her earrings had been ripped out and clumps of her hair were lying on the floor and couch.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margot Bolster said there wasn’t a part of the little girl’s body that didn’t bear bruises or abrasions.
CCTV cameras indicated no one but Karen Harrington entered and left Apartment 26 from 3.10am until 5.11am, by which time Santina was in a coma from horrific head injuries.
The State case against the 38-year-old was rooted in the CCTV footage and forensic evidence which showed her DNA in a blood stain on Santina’s pink T-shirt and Santina’s DNA in a blood stain on adult female leggings recovered from a back bedroom of the apartment.
But the core element of Harrington’s conviction for the toddler’s murder was the comprehensive suite of CCTV evidence exhaustively compiled by gardaí in the days and weeks after the killing.
So detailed was the investigation that Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and Santina’s parents, Michael Cawley and Bridget O’Donoghue, specifically singled it out for mention during the sentencing hearing. Tributes were paid to the lead investigating gardaí, Det Inspector Danny Coholan and Inspector David Callaghan.
The team and techniques used to compile and assess the data into a PowerPoint presentation for the jury were the same as those used in some of Ireland’s highest profile murder cases, including the Graham Dwyer prosecution.
So detailed was the CCTV evidence that it precisely verified the statements of multiple neighbours who had reported Karen Harrington’s movements in her apartment on July 5, 2019. She was shouting, roaring and repeatedly slamming the sliding door of her apartment that morning before 4am.
Her next-door neighbour, Dylan Olney, came out of his apartment in frustration to confront her over the noise. Karen Harrington was recorded by another annoyed neighbour, with the tape
revealing a woman shrieking and daring for the gardaí to be called. Another neighbour recalled a female, who sounded somewhat intoxicated, shouting: “I’ll show them, I’ll show them — this isn’t a f***ing joke.”
At 4.31am, worried by the sound of a child crying and being mocked, Mr Olney called gardaí. CCTV footage from multiple cameras verified all these accounts — and the garda patrol car arriving at 4.52am and then leaving again when Apartment 26 was found to be silent.
Gardaí spent hundreds of hours going door-to-door in the search for CCTV footage and viewed more than 500 hours of recordings drawn from more than 50 businesses, shops and homes.
To preserve the integrity of the critical footage obtained, gardaí didn’t copy some of the data but secured the original camera storage units.
In cases where the security camera drives were taken, exact replicas were given back to the businesses and homeowners involved.
The investigation was boosted by a combination of skilled police work and good fortune. One investigating officer was reminded by a colleague that a family in a nearby estate had CCTV cameras installed by their son as a security measure. Incredibly, one of the cameras involved was found to offer a panoramic view overlooking the nearby Elderwood complex and the balcony leading to Karen Harrington’s apartment. Every movement to and from the flat could be traced as a result.
Such was the exhaustive nature of the CCTV haul that detectives were able to trace the precise movements of Karen Harrington from the afternoon of July 4 when she went drinking with her friend, through to the minutes after 5.11am on July 5 when she ran barefoot from the Elderwood complex after Santina was discovered lying injured.
Detectives were also able to verify Mr Cawley’s account that he had returned with his daughter to No 26 Elderwood Park at 3.10am after socialising in a neighbour’s apartment and had left his daughter alone in the care of the defendant while he went into Cork city centre.
Karen Harrington had returned to her apartment alone and distressed from that same neighbour’s home shortly before 1.30am after a row with Mr Cawley, in which he had called her “a prostitute” and “a bitch” and had accused her of being with foreigners and “Pakis”.
Security camera footage showed Mr Cawley leaving No 26 at 3.10am and then jogging into Cork city centre at 3.17am.
Footage from multiple cameras showed him engaging in conversations with groups of people in the city centre and even having a cigarette with a group on Winthrop Street around 4am. CCTV footage verified him returning to the Elderwood complex via a different route and going into Apartment 26 at 5.11am.
Just over 45 seconds later, Mr Cawley is screaming for help and exiting the apartment after discovering his little girl critically injured on the filthy duvet.
Other CCTV camera footage shows Karen Harrington leaving the Elderwood complex after 5.17am and multiple cameras catch her as she walks barefoot from Boreenmanna Road to Blackrock, stopping at one point to sit by the pavement.
When she arrived at a friend’s house in Blackrock, her bare feet were bleeding.
The friend drove her back to the Elderwood complex, where Michael Cawley confronted her in front of gardaí and accused her of being “a monster” and having killed his child.
She later agreed to make a voluntary statement to gardaí and supplied blood, hand swabs and fingernail scrapings on July 5.
Harrington’s blood test was taken at 11.10am that day but it later returned no trace of alcohol. The only drug traces found in her sample were metabolic remnants of diazepam, or Valium.
Harrington, who was first arrested for questioning on July 8, 2019, had 16 previous convictions but none for violent offences.