Justice done for innocent, defenceless toddler Santina who suffered over 50 injuries
Karen Harrington (38) was expressionless as she received a life sentence after a Central Criminal Court jury rejected what prosecutors slated as her “doughnut-shaped” argument that she did not kill toddler Santina Cawley (2).
Harrington had pleaded not guilty to the murder of the little girl in the early hours of July 5, 2019, at Apartment 26 in Elderwood Park off Cork’s Boreenmanna Road – but she could offer no inkling as to how the child suffered such catastrophic injuries.
However, the jury of seven men and four women convicted her after hearing detailed prosecution evidence over the harrowing four-week trial that Harrington was the only person in the apartment with Santina between 3.10am and 5.11am at the time the little girl suffered her fatal injuries including a fractured skull, traumatic brain injury and severe spinal cord injury.
When discovered by her father, Michael Cawley (37), who returned to Apartment 26 at 5.11am, Santina was lying naked and blood-spattered on a dirty duvet.
Clumps of her hair were on the floor and on the couch.
Harrington’s DNA was found in a blood sample recovered from the toddler’s pink T-shirt, while the child’s DNA was found in a blood stain on female adult leggings found by gardaí in a back bedroom of the apartment.
Sean Gillane SC, for the State, said Harrington’s argument effectively was “doughnut-shaped – with a massive hole in the middle”.
“I submit there is only one conclusion – that Karen Harrington is guilty of the murder of Santina Cawley.”
Mr Gillane said the killer was “unable to utter a single syllable in terms of anything that happened to Santina”.
Harrington could not explain how Santina had suffered her horrific injuries in Harrington’s home – and could not say who was responsible. “(But) I say to you that even on her own account there is only one explanation (for what happened).”
The prosecutor argued that the spine of the meticulous CCTV, forensic and witness evidence clearly led to only one person – Karen Harrington. “There is a line of unanswerable evidence... there are paths of deliberate violence directed to a child coming together.”
After her arrest, the defendant admitted during garda interviews on July 8 and 9, 2019, that the garda evidence pointed to her – but steadfastly maintained she had not killed the child.
The State argued hundreds of hours of CCTV footage showed the only person who entered and left Apartment 26 with Santina during the critical time period involved in the early hours of July 5 was Karen Harrington.
The child’s clothing was damaged, with indications it had been torn off and Santina’s nappy was found caught within her pants lying on the floor.
Neighbours had told gardaí they heard Harrington screaming and shouting in the early hours of July 5 – and repeatedly slamming the sliding door of her apartment to demand that: “Everybody wake the f*** up.”
In her garda statements and in direct testimony to the trial, Harrington said she was unable to explain how Santina suffered her devastating injuries despite the child being alone with her.
“I cannot answer that (how Santina was injured),” she said in direct testimony at the trial. “I am not escaping anything. I don’t know exactly what happened in that period of time...it is not all blank...there are parts of the night I do recall.
“As regards what happened to Santina and her injuries, I can’t give a detailed account.”
She stressed that she was not mocking or taunting the child that night – and challenged the evidence of a neighbour, Dylan Olney, who said he heard a sobbing child being taunted in the apartment by a female. The defendant insisted she was a very caring person – and did not know how to hurt a child.
“I didn’t myself (notice injuries before being awoken at 5am). I can recall back. I don’t envision any bruises or blood or anything like that. I don’t know anything about them,” she said.
However, in an emotional video-recorded interview with gardaí on July 9 2019, she said: “The evidence looks like it is all on me, all on me. This is pointing to me...it all says that I went mad. I don’t know. Jesus Christ. I can’t remember. I’m sick.”
Santina was discovered with a total of 53 separate injuries – 49 external bruises, abrasions and wounds together with four internal injuries.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster conducted a post-mortem examination at Cork University Hospital (CUH) and found the toddler died from a traumatic brain injury having suffered a complex skull fracture, a severe spinal cord injury and fragmenting fractures to her leg and arm.
Dr Bolster warned that the injuries were not accidental.
The pathologist said the blunt-force trauma injuries were likely caused by Santina being struck against something rather than with something.
Santina was rushed to CUH before 6am but never regained consciousness and doctors ceased life-saving activity at 9.05am.
The toddler was placed in the arms of her mother, Bridget, and was pronounced dead at 9.20am.
Santina’s father, Michael Cawley was separated from his wife Bridget, and had been in a relationship with Harrington since December 2018.
The trial heard that Santina was discovered at 5.11am by her father, who had left her in the care of the defendant for two hours while he walked into Cork city centre to search for his cousin.
Mr Cawley left Santina at Apartment 26 at 3.10am and departed the Elderwood complex at 3.17am.
Almost his every movement from Elderwood to Cork city centre and back again over those two hours was caught on CCTV footage.
When he left, Santina and Harrington were alone in Apartment 26.
The prosecution maintained Santina was alive and well when Mr Cawley departed.
Mr Cawley had been socialising with Harrington in a neighbouring flat in the Elderwood complex on the evening of July 4 and into the early hours of July 5. Both had been drinking and were accompanied by Santina.
Karen Harrington had earlier been drinking with a female friend at Cork’s Atlantic Pond and had smoked some cannabis.
A row erupted between the defendant and Mr Cawley at around 1.30am.
Harrington did not want Mr Cawley’s cousin coming to the Elderwood complex – and also insisted that Mr Cawley had to look after his own daughter.
Mr Cawley called Harrington “a bitch,” “a c***” and “a prostitute”.
The defendant became very upset and left the apartment of Martina Higgins and Eric Okunala at 1.25am and returned home alone to No 26 Elderwood Park at 1.31am.
Mr Olney – who had earlier confronted Harrington about her screaming and loud slamming of a sliding door – said he was “creeped out” by her behaviour.
He called gardaí but when he let them into the complex at 4.52am, there was no answer from Apartment 26. “There was dead silence – you could hear a pin drop,” Mr Olney said.
Mr Cawley arrived at 5.11am and discovered his daughter lying bleeding and critically injured on a filthy duvet inside the apartment.