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Santina Cawley

Father tells murder trial of moment he discovered his critically injured two-year-old daughter

Karen Harrington, 37, of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon, Cork is on trial for the murder of two-year-old Santina Cawley.

A FATHER HAS told a jury that when he found his two-year-old daughter critically injured at the home of his then girlfriend he fell to his knees and pleaded with her to speak or respond in some way.

Michael Cawley was giving evidence at a Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork where Karen Harrington, 37, of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon, Cork is on trial for the murder of Santina Cawley. The toddler died in Cork University Hospital shortly after 9am on the 5 July, 2019.

Santina was found with extensive injuries at an apartment in the Elderwood complex in Boreenmanna Road in Cork a few hours earlier.

She had sustained a fracture to the skull and ribs, a brain injury, bruises to almost every single part of her body and an injury to her spine. A stud earring from Santina’s left earlobe was on the floor as well as clumps of her torn out hair.

Cawley told a jury of seven men and five women that he had left the apartment of his then girlfriend Karen Harrington at 3am on July 5th in order to look for a cousin in Cork city centre. He stated that Santina got on well with Karen.

Cawley said when he returned about two hours later a next door neighbour of Harrington’s approached him outside the apartment and said that that Karen had “gone mad inside.” He claimed that the man told him that Karen was “roaring and screaming” inside and asked him if it was his baby who was with her.

He said that initially he wasn’t alarmed. He wondered if Santina had been up crying or if Karen had needed to give her a bottle or a nappy change.

Cawley said when he entered the apartment he was in shock at what he saw.

“I could see blood on the floor near the sink. I could see broken glass on the ground. Karen was on the couch lying down. I could see the blanket that Santina was on (when he left) but the blanket was on her (Santina’s) face. I said to Karen ‘what is going on?’

He said that Santina was dressed when he left her but that now she was naked.

“Santina didn’t look right in the face. One of her eyes was half closed and the other eye was open. There was a bruise on her left face. I checked her pulse. She was warm. I tried to speak to her. I was on my knees crying : ‘ ‘Please, please Santina say something.’

I asked Karen ‘what is going on?’ She just ran door down the stairs and left through the bottom of the apartment through the front door . I asked the neighbour to call the ambulance.”

Cawley said he was deeply distressed.

“The guards arrived and asked me to remain outside. The paramedics arrived. I broke down crying. I was crying my heart out. Paramedics wouldn’t allow me to go in the ambulance because they needed the space to work on Santina,” he said. 

He said that Karen turned up with a “random woman” and he asked his then girlfriend if it was his daughter’s blood that was in the apartment. He claimed she said it was in fact blood from her foot. The other woman stated that Karen “would not touch a fly.”

Cawley told the jury that he found it hard to take in what was happening.

“I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t sit. I think I just wanted to be with my daughter in the hospital,” he added.

When he was being cross examined by Brendan Grehan, SC, for the defence Cawley said that it was a “privilege to look after Santina.” He stated that he was separated from his wife and was a “full time single Dad” to Santina.

He strongly refuted suggestions from the defence that he struggled to cope with Santina. He stated that Santina “got on great” with Karen who was his partner of several months.

He said that Santina lived with him in Grattan Street in Cork city but they often stayed in Karen’s then home at Elderwood Park in Cork.

The trial had earlier heard from Cawley that Karen Harrington and her friend Martina Higgins had gone drinking at the Atlantic Pond in Cork on the night of the 4 July, 2019. He gave evidence he had gone in his Ford Mondeo at around 10pm to collect the pair.

Cawley said that Santina was in the car with him at the time. Alcohol was purchased and they went to the apartment of Martina Higgins who also resided at the Elderwood complex.

He said that he bought nine or ten cans and the three adults and Santina went in to the Higgins apartment. Higgins’ partner Eric Okunala was home and they sat around chatting.

He said they were in a backyard patio and that he had two glasses of cider and a can. Cawley stated that Santina was playing with toys. He stressed that Santina was in “great form” as she loved being around people. He stated that she later fell asleep in the apartment and that he hoped to stay the night there in order not to disturb her.

Cawley said under cross examinations that he couldn’t recall calling Okunala a “rat” because he wanted him gone from the apartment and was planning to call the gardaí. He said that Okunala had thrown a drink over his partner Martina Higgins and that he took exception to a man treating a woman like that.

The jury had heard that Karen had left alone and gone back to her apartment shortly before 1.30am on 5 July. Cawley said under cross examination that he might have called her names and he knew that he wasn’t particularly welcome at the house of his girlfriend.

However, he said when he returned with Santina at 3am he thought that whatever discussions they were going to have about the night would wait until the morning. He asked Karen to look after Santina so he could go to the city centre to find his cousin.

“I asked her (Karen) to look after her. I wouldn’t be too long. Karen said ‘yeah.’ Santina was awake.”

Today extensive CCTV footage was shown to the jury with a woman, whom the Prosecution say was Harrington, leaving her apartment shortly after Cawley returned home.

The footage showed Cawley arriving at the apartment at 5.10am on 5 July 2019 with the woman believed to be Harrington leaving a minute later.

Cawley’s trip to the city centre from 3am to 5am was logged on CCTV at various intervals around Blackrock and the city.

The trial will continue tomorrow and is expected to last up to five weeks. It will involve the calling of more than 100 witnesses.

Olivia Kelleher