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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C

Jury finds Karen Harrington guilty of murder of Cork toddler Santina Cawley

Karen Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon in Cork, is on trial at the Central Criminal Court.

LAST UPDATE | May 16th 2022, 5:08 PM

A JURY HAS found Karen Harrington guilty of the murder of two-year-old Santina Cawley in Cork city in 2019.

The jury deliberated for four hours and 46 minutes before making its decision.

Karen Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon in Cork, has been on trial at the Central Criminal Court sitting in the city over the murder of Santina Cawley at 26 Elderwood Park in Boreenmanna Road on 5 July 2019. At the time of the alleged offence Harrington was in a relationship with Michael Cawley, the father of Santina.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster, who carried out the postmortem of the child previously told the trial that Santina died as a result of a traumatic brain injury and an upper spinal cord injury. Those injuries were coupled with polytrauma and lower limb injuries due to blunt force trauma.

The toddler sustained 53 injuries — 49 external and four internal — including fractures to her skull, two fractured ribs and fractures to her right arm and end of her left thigh as well as extensive bruising to most parts of her body.

Dr Bolster said that the head injuries sustained by Santina were likely caused by it being struck against a flat surface. Dr Bolster gave evidence that the toddler would have immediately stopped crying and fallen in to a coma after she sustained the fracture to her head. Dr Bolster also told the court that the injuries were “forcefully inflicted” and were not consistent with an accidental fall.

The jury were recalled last Friday and sent home for the weekend. They resumed their deliberations today.

The jury has been excused from further jury service for life. 

The court is currently deciding whether sentencing will go ahead today or at a further date. 

Verdict must be unanimous

The judge had told the jury to set aside any sympathy they may have felt for Karen Harrington and her relatives as well as for the deceased child and her family.

Santina was found lying naked on a duvet at 26 Elderwood Park on 5 July 2019. Her father Michael Cawley returned to the apartment of his then partner Karen at 5am to find Santina critically injured. She was rushed by ambulance to Cork University Hospital where she died at 9.20am that day in the arms of her mother Bridget.

On Wednesday of last week, Harrington (38) took to the stand and gave direct evidence in which she said that she did not murder Santina. She told defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC, that she couldn’t provide an answer as to who killed the child as she was “unsure”.

She was cross examined by Prosecuting Counsel Sean Gillane SC who asked her if she accepted that Michael Cawley did not inflict the injuries on his daughter.

She replied: “It is not for me to answer. I am not in a position to answer. I don’t know.”

Gillane said: “Santina did not do this to herself. Mr Cawley certainly did not do it. There is no mysterious stranger in the apartment. The only other person there is you.”

In his closing statement to the jury Mr Gillane said that Karen Harrington offered a “doughnut-shaped” account of what had occurred with a massive hole in the middle in relation to the hours in which Santina sustained her injuries.

He emphasised that the trial was not an inquiry in to parenting or relationships.

“It is not a morality play. The narrow focus is what happened to Santina Cawley that morning. The issue here is straightforward. It is not easy. It is tragic.”

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

Harrington accepted the proposition put forward by 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’.

She said she had been woken from her sleep in her apartment at 3am on 5 July, 2019 and that a row had ‘escalated’ with her then partner Michael Cawley.

Harrington 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.

Gillane put it to Ms Harrington that when Michael Cawley left Santina was “alive and uninjured.” Harrington said that she couldn’t confirm that.

“Why not?” Gillane asked. “If there were injuries, how could you not have noticed?”

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.”

Gillane said that in the defendant’s statements to gardai she indicated that when Michael 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.

Gillane said that if Santina had been injured at that point Karen would have seen the injuries. Harrington didn’t respond when Gillane asked if if she had seen missing tufts of hair from the head of the child or a bleeding lip at that point.

He put it to her that she, alongside the jury, had been shown CCTV evidence from when Michael Cawley left the apartment during the early hours of 5 July 2019 and that nobody other than Karen Harrington entered or left until Michael returned to find the child injured.

“Are you going to be big enough to say Michael didn’t do it? Santina didn’t do it?”

Harrington said that she accepted that Santina didn’t do it.

Mr Gillane again asked Karen if she would accept that the father of the child was not responsible for her death. Karen said it was not a question for her to answer.

“I am not in a position to answer that. I do not know.”

Gillane said that if Santina didn’t do it, and neither Michael Cawley or a mysterious stranger was responsible for the death who was. She said she couldn’t say: “I can’t give a detailed account.”

She conceded that she hadn’t seen anyone else harm the child. 

Meanwhile, Brendan Grehan, Counsel for the Defence, said that his client’s consistent position was that she did not cause Santina Cawley’s injuries.

He suggested it was a case where the jury should be left with a doubt, and he called on the jury to find his client not guilty.

Grehan said that Karen was a person in her thirties with no history of violence.

Grehan said that there was no onus on Harrington to prove that she was not responsible for the death of Santina. “The onus is on the prosecution”

He said that his client “consistently and persistently” protested her innocence and that this should given the jury reason to pause whilst making their deliberations.

‘My angel’

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.

The priest said Santina knew what she wanted. “She was very fond of the Teletubbies and if there were any other children around when the Teletubbies were on she would say to them to ‘Hush. I want to watch this’.”

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 was a little angel.

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

Olivia Kelleher