Santina Cawley trial: Woman accused of murder claims she did not kill toddler

Santina Cawley Trial: Woman Accused Of Murder Claims She Did Not Kill Toddler
Karen Harrington (37) is on trial at the Central Criminal Court in Cork city charged with the murder of Santina Cawley.
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Olivia Kelleher

A woman accused of the murder of a two-year-old girl has claimed in direct evidence at her trial that she did not kill the toddler and was "unsure" as to who was responsible for the crime in spite of considering the issue for the last three years.

Karen Harrington (37) is on trial at the Central Criminal Court in Cork city charged with the murder of Santina Cawley.


The child was found critically injured on the morning of July 5th, 2019 at the then home of Ms Harrington at Elderwood Park in Boreenmanna Road in Cork.

Ms Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon, Co Cork, was in a relationship with Michael Cawley, Santina's father, at the time of the alleged offence.

Santina died in the arms of her mother at Cork University Hospital at 9.20am on July 5th, 2019.


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 and she would have instantly lapsed into a coma.

Santina sustained 53 injuries, including fractures to her skull, arm, femur and ribs, in addition to bruising to almost every part of her body.

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

Asked by Mr Gillane to “solve the mystery” of what happened to Santina, Ms Harrington said she had thought about what had occurred to the two-year-old for three years but had no answer.


Mr Gillane said: "Santina did not cause the injuries to herself. Do you accept that only person with her was you?" to which Ms Harrington replied: "No."

“Would you like to name anyone else with her?” Mr Gilane asked.

He then said if she had not inflicted the injuries on the youngster, who did, to which the accused said she could not comment.

“I cannot answer that. I am unsure to say. I have thought about this for over three years.”


Escalated row

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

Ms Harrington accepted he left shortly after, 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 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 [see] 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, adding that the last she remembered was that Santina was asleep on a duvet in the living room of the apartment.

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

Ms Harrington did not respond when Mr Gillane asked if she had seen the child was missing tufts of hair from her head, or a bleeding lip at that point.

He put it to her that she, alongside the jury, had been shown CCTV evidence from when Mr Cawley left the apartment during the early hours of July 5th and that nobody other Ms Harrington entered or left until he 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?” counsel asked. Ms Harrington said she accepted Santina did not do it.

Horrific injuries

When asked if she accepted that Mr Cawley, who was captured on CCTV in Cork city centre for several hours on the morning in question, had not inflicted the injuries, she said: “I don’t know exactly what happened from 3-5am. I was suddenly woken from my sleep.”

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

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

She said she would accept that she did not kill Santina, and when Mr Gillane said her answer involved the use of an "escape hatch" she stressed that she was "not escaping".

Mr Gillane asked who was responsible for the child's death if Santina did not inflict the injuries on herself, and neither Mr Cawley nor a mysterious stranger was responsible. Ms Harrington she said she could not say.

The accused conceded she had not seen anyone else harm the child and did not answer when Mr Gillane asked her if she heard Santina crying when she was being otherwise injured.

She denied taunting the child as reported to gardaí by neighbour Dylan Olney, claiming she herself had been "crying through the night".

Mr Gillane said Ms Harrington was responsible for the death of the toddler, which she denied.

You inflicted those horrific injuries.

“I did not inflict injuries on Santina Cawley,” Ms Harrington said.

Mr Gillane ended his cross-examination by adding that when gardaí arrived at the apartment to investigate a noise complaint, Mr Olney said there was a "dead silence".

He put it to Ms Harrington that Mr Olney could never have known at that point that the phrase was literal and not metaphorical.

Meanwhile, Mr Gillane also read statements to the jury which were taken by gardaí from two teenagers who live in the Elderwood complex where Santina was found critically injured.

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The teenagers cannot be named for legal reasons.

One said she heard a woman arguing with a man in the early hours of July 5th, 2019, adding that the man had called the woman a “b**ch” and a “prostitute”.

Another teenager said she saw a woman shouting at another woman running down the road.

The trial continues on Wednesday in front of Justice Michael McGrath and a jury of seven men and four women after the twelfth juror in the case was excused last week.

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