Santina Cawley’s injuries not consistent with an accidental death, murder trial told

Santina Cawley’s Injuries Not Consistent With An Accidental Death, Murder Trial Told
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster detailed the 53 injuries the child sustained prior to her death
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Olivia Kelleher

A two-year-old girl found critically injured in an apartment in Cork in 2019 died of “forcefully inflicted injuries” having sustained a traumatic brain injury, an upper spinal cord injury coupled with polytrauma and lower limb injuries due to blunt force trauma.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster detailed the 53 injuries the child sustained prior to her death, noting they were not consistent with a fall or an accidental death.


Karen Harrington of Lakelands Crescent in Mahon, Cork is on trial at a Central Criminal Court sitting in the city charged with the murder of Santina Cawley at 26 Elderwood Park in Boreenmanna Road on July 5th, 2019. At the time of the alleged offence, the 38-year-old was in a relationship with Michael Cawley, the father of the deceased.

Ms Bolster told the jury of seven men and four women of performing over 16,000 postmortem examinations over the course of her career.

She noted that Santina had a healed fracture to her left femur. However, Dr Bolster stated that all the fractures and bruising she recorded at the postmortem of the child were recent.

“There was no way she was walking around with these fractures.”


Dr Bolster said that the injuries were not consistent with a fall or an accidental death.

“The pattern of injuries are not consistent with a fall or accident. Multiplicity and places of (injuries) (make the death not consistent with a fall).

“Once the head injury was inflicted she (Santina) would have been in a deep coma.

“Extensive damage was done, and the brain was swollen. This was a severe and traumatic brain injury. There was bleeding into and around the spinal cord.”


Unable to cry

Dr Bolster said that once the head injury was inflicted Santina would have been unable to cry. Effectively the child “would have gone into a deep coma.”

Dr Bolster noted signs of medical intervention on the body as desperate efforts were made at Cork University Hospital to save the child.

She conducted a head to toe examination on Santina and recorded extensive bruising and abrasions throughout the entire body of the child who was rushed to hospital on the morning of the 5th of July 2019. Santina died in the arms of her mother Bridget that morning shortly after 9am.

A complex fracture of the skull was noted with a 10-centimetre displacement of the bone, in addition to fractures to her right arm and the end of her lower thigh-bone, and two fractures to the ribs. Bruising of up one to one centimetre deep was recorded under Santina’s scalp.


The child sustained bruising to the right upper arm, the left upper arm, the left elbow, the chest and abdomen, the left sternum, the right side of the chest, the thorax and the pelvis.

Her injuries included bruising to the forehead, the earlobes, the cheeks, the mouth, the inner upper lip, and a laceration of the philtrum which is the midline groove in the upper lip that runs from the top of the lip to the nose.

Dr Bolster said bruising covered the entire scalp. Bruising was also noted on the adam’s apple, the jawbones, the upper arms, legs, and on the back of the left foot and ankle. Santina had tiny pinpoint haemorrhages on the right side of her back. She also had bruising to the left side of her back.

I cannot count the number of impacts.


Dr Bolster said that there was no evidence of any underlying illness in the child. She added that she could not count the number of impacts to the head.

“I cannot count the number of impacts.”

Dr Bolster also examined the scene where Santina was found injured. She noted trails of blood in the kitchen of the property at 26 Elderwood Park, broken glass and crockery on the floor and an overturned chair.

Children’s clothing was found on the floor along with a stud earring which was missing from one of Santina’s ears. An adult blood stained floral pants was also found at a bedroom onsite.

The trial continues in front of Justice Michael McGrath and an 11-person jury. The twelfth juror was excused last week.

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