Karen Harrington found guilty of murder in Santina Cawley trial

Woman had denied the murder of two-year-old in 2019

A 38-year-old-woman has been been given a life sentence after being convicted of the murder of a two- year-old girl found with extensive injuries in her apartment in Cork city three years ago.

Karen Harrington, originally from Ravensdale Road in Mahon but living at Lakelands Crescent in Mahon, had denied the murder of Santina Cawley at her apartment at Elderwood Park, Boreenanmanna Road, Cork on July 5th, 2019.

But today on the fourteenth day of the trial, a jury of seven men and four women at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork returned an unanimous guilty verdict before Mr Justice Michael MacGrath, after deliberating for a total of four hours and 46 minutes

Harrington, dressed in a navy trouser suit and pink blouse, showed no emotion as the jury foreman confirmed to the court registrar that they had found her guilty of Santina Cawley’s murder and that it was their unanimous verdict.

Santina’s separated parents, Michael Cawley and Bridgie O ‘Donoghue, were both in court when the registrar confirmed the verdict.

Mr Cawley had been in a relationship with Harrington at the time and he had left Santina in Harrington’s care in her apartment when he went into Cork city in the early hours of July 5th, 2019 to try and find his cousin who had come from Limerick.

The couple had been drinking together at the apartment of a friend of Harrington’s, also in the Elderwood complex, but a row had broken about between them with Mr Cawley calling Harrington “a whore and a prostitute” before she went home alone shortly before 1.30am.

Mr Cawley continued drinking at Harrington’s friend’s apartment until around 3am when he returned to Harrington’s duplex with Santina. The couple had another argument before Cawley left Santina in the care of his partner and walked into Cork city.

During the trial, the jury heard evidence that Santina suffered a total of 53 separate injuries and Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster told the trial that her injuries could not have been accidental such was their multiplicity and ubiquity all over her body.

Dr Bolster told the trial that Santina Cawley, who was just 47cm tall and weighed 10.3kg, died from traumatic brain injury and upper spinal cord injury together with polytrauma and lower limb injuries, all a result of blunt force trauma.

Dr Bolster told prosecution counsel, Sean Gillane SC that blunt force trauma resulted from being struck with something or struck against something and Santina’s extensive injuries to her head, upper body and limbs were not the result of any accidental fall.

“These are not accidental but are forcefully inflicted injuries,” said Dr Bolster after cataloguing a long list of injuries sustained by Santina including complex fractures to her skull with displacement of bone, two fractured ribs and fractures to her right arm and end of her left thigh.

Dr Bolster also listed extensive bruising including to Santina’s forehead, side of the face, lower jaw as well as upper right arm, lower left arm, hands and feet, while she also found a tear to the philtrum or piece of flesh between the upper lip and gum, usually associated with a blow to the mouth.

Asked by defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC if Santina would have stopped crying after suffering head injuries, Dr Bolster said she would have fallen into a coma as soon as she suffered the extensive head injuries and would have stopped crying immediately.

Dr Bolster told Mr Grehan that Santina could only have suffered the diffuse axonal injuries or injuries to nerve fibres in her brain from her head being struck against a surface or struck with some object and given there was no external injury, it looked like her head was struck against a flat surface.