Woman charged with murder of Santina Cawley gave ‘donut-shaped account’, court told

Defence argue that there are sufficient deficiencies in the prosecution case

The jury trying the case of a woman charged with the murder of a two-year-old toddler have been urged by the prosecution to look at the line of evidence presented by the state.

Prosecution counsel, Sean Gillane SC argued that there was sufficient evidence to convict Karen Harrington (38) of the murder of Santina Cawley in Cork on July 5th, 2019, as he went through some of the evidence given by over 40 prosecution witnesses over the past three weeks.

But defence counsel, Brendan Grehan SC argued that the jury could only convict Ms Harrington of the offence only if they were satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt and he argued that there were sufficient deficiencies in the state's case to create that reasonable doubt.

Mr Gillane told the seven men and four women of the jury that their experience of everyday life equipped them with a skill to distinguish between what is reliable and what is unreliable, and they should apply that skill to the evidence they heard over the course of the trial.


He acknowledged he had no eyewitness to the murder of Santina Cawley but that did not mean the jury could not draw inferences from various items of evidence that the state had adduced in the case as to what had happened, and they were entitled to “marry Fact A with Fact B and reach Fact C.”

“In this case, Karen Harrington is like somebody walking between the raindrops, convincing herself she is not getting wet and the only person she is convincing is herself and the raindrops are evidence and she stands drenched, soaked to the neck in the evidence,” he said.

Mr Gillane said that there was also cloud hanging over the case which needed to be dispelled and that cloud related to Santina's father, Michael Cawley and the insinuation or implication that he may have been responsible for his daughter's death.

“Nobody has said it directly that he is responsible, but it can be said with a nod and wink and a hint - if it was to be said, it should have been said when Michael Cawley got into the witness box and when he took an oath to tell the truth but to leave it hang there is desperately unfair.”

Mr Gillane said he had no doubt that Mr Cawley may have regretted many of his actions from the night that Santina was killed including going to the apartment of Ms Harrington's friend, Martina Higgins and later leaving Santina with Ms Harrington when he went to look for his cousin in Cork.


But while Mr Cawley may wish he did things differently on the night, it did not impact directly on the question that they as a jury had to decide - namely what happened to Santina Cawley while she was in Ms Harrington’s apartment that led to her sustaining the injuries that were to prove fatal.

Mr Gillane acknowledged that the jury may have views on late night drinking and other matters, but the trial was not “a morality play” and the issue they had to decide on the evidence presented by the prosecution was whether Ms Harrington was guilty or not of the murder of Santina Cawley.

There was a spine or line of facts running through the case and while it was a deeply tragic case and not an easy one to listen to, the line of facts was straightforward, said Mr Gillane as he outlined some of the evidence the state had produced in support of its view that Ms Harrington was guilty.

He pointed to the CCTV and phone records which showed Ms Harrington left Ms Higgins apartment at Elderwood Drive on her own at 1.25am on July 5th 2019, rang her friend, Aoife Niamh McGaley at 1.27am and returned home alone to her apartment at Elderwood Park at 1.36am.

Mr Gillane also referred to the forensic evidence found in the apartment including tufts of Santina’s hair on a couch as well as tears to Santina’s top and an earring found on the floor which matched one found in Santina’s ear, all of which pointed to the child being the victim of a sustained assault.

And he also reminded the jury of the evidence of Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster that Santina had sustained polytrauma - multiple injuries all over her head and body that were so extensive they could not have been caused accidentally but were forcefully inflicted on the child.


He said Ms Harrington’s evidence where she accepted Santina was hysterical and she was alone in the apartment with Santina for a period after Mr Cawley left and before he returned “was a donut-shaped account with a crusty periphery but a big hole in the middle - what happened to Santina.”

Mr Grehan in turn told the jury that listening to Mr Gillane, it was as if evidence was being piled upon evidence so much so that it was also being presented as a deluge that they couldn't resist it but he submitted there were good grounds for resisting that and finding Ms Harrington not guilty.

“Ms Harrington’s position from beginning to end is that she did not murder Santina Cawley,” said Mr Grehan as he recalled that the jury had heard her maintain that position throughout five interviews with gardai as well as when she took the witness box to testify incourt.

“Mr Grehan said it was “an awful crime and a harrowing case” given that a child had been killed and the jury had heard the evidence of Dr Bolster that Santina died from polytrauma after suffering a succession of injuries.

He reminded the jury how Mr Cawley had asked Ms Harrington to take Santina with her when she left the party at Ms Higgins’s apartment after they had a row but Ms Harrington was clear in her response - “she said - ‘It’s your child, it has nothing to do with me.”

“Maybe you (the jury) were expecting forensics to put it beyond doubt but not a bit of it, there is no forensics, like material under her nails that put it beyond doubt. There is no forensic evidence that makes the case the prosecution wants to make.

“She accepts the evidence ‘points at me’ but she insists she did not do it. The lack of forensics, her previous character - these should all give you cause to pause and you should be left with a doubt in terms of the prosecution case. I am asking you to acquit Karen Harrington.”

The case continues.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times