Murder trial | 

Karen Harrington heard 'terrorising and taunting' little Santina Cawley (2), court told

Karen Harrington was heard screaming and taunting the child a short time before her naked body was found, court hears

Santina Cawley

Ralph Riegel

A woman accused of the murder of a two-year-old girl was heard by a neighbour screaming, taunting and terrorising the child a short time before her naked body was found covered in bruises and with clumps of her hair pulled out, a court has heard.

The revelation came on the opening day of the murder trial of Karen Harrington (37), who denies the murder of Santina Cawley (2) in Cork three years ago.

Ms Harrington pleaded not guilty at the opening of her Central Criminal Court trial before Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and a jury of seven men and five women.

The little girl was found with critical injuries at 26 Elderwood Park, off the Boreenmanna Road in Cork city, at around 5am on July 5, 2019.

Despite desperate efforts by doctors and paramedics to stabilise the girl's condition, she was pronounced dead a short time after being rushed to Cork University Hospital (CUH).

Karen Harrington

Ms Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, was first charged with the murder of the child three years ago before Cork District Court.

Sean Gillane SC, for the State, outlined the prosecution case to the jury on the opening day of the trial.

Mr Gillane said the State will enter testimony that Santina's devastating injuries could not have been suffered in the normal rough and tumble of play.

When gardaí and paramedics were called to the scene at 5am on July 5, Santina was found lying unresponsive with multiple traumatic injuries.

A post-mortem examination was conducted at CUH, which found she had sustained polytrauma and "devastating injuries with no chance of recovery".

Santina sustained a fractured skull with a traumatic brain injury, as well as fractures to her ribs and an injury to her spine.

When gardaí searched Ms Harrington's apartment - where Santina was found lying naked on a duvet - they discovered blood stains and clumps of the child's hair lying torn out beside a couch.

Mr Gillane said the State will introduce evidence at the trial from neighbours who were concerned at the sound of a loud disturbance in the defendant's apartment at 26 Elderwood Park at around 4am on July 5.

Mr Gillane said one neighbour, Dylan Olney, who lived in No 27, said he heard the sound of the defendant screaming and then a child crying. Other neighbours heard the sound of a door slamming, as well as shouting and roaring.

"Not only could he (Mr Olney) hear a child crying, he could hear the accused (Ms Harrington) shouting directly at the child, mocking and taunting the child and terrorising the child," he said.

Mr Gillane said Mr Olney - who had earlier confronted Ms Harrington about the noise she was making in the early hours of the morning - was so concerned he contacted gardaí, who attended the property.

On the evening of July 4, Ms Harrington had been socialising with Santina's father, Michael Cawley, with whom she was in a relationship.

Mr Cawley was separated from Santina's mother, Bridget, and the child was in his care that weekend.

"At that time in 2019, she (Ms Harrington) was in a relationship with Michael Cawley and had been for some time," Mr Gillane told the court.

"He (Mr Cawley) and Santina were regular visitors to that address (Elderwood) and sometimes stayed over."

Mr Cawley and Ms Harrington - who had Santina with them - were socialising throughout the afternoon and evening of July 4 with others.

They had purchased alcohol and consumed it near the Atlantic Pond in Cork.

They all arrived back at the apartment complex and went to the home of the defendant's friend, Martina Higgins, at in an apartment in Elderwood.

The adults proceeded to drink until a dispute arose over Mr Cawley wanting to allow his cousin to stay at the property overnight.

Santina’s father Michael Cawley found her body on a duvet

Another dispute arose at 3am on July 5 when Ms Higgins' partner, Eric Okunala, requested that everyone go home given the late hour.

Mr Cawley went back to No 26 with the defendant and his daughter.

He then realised he had lost his phone and went out to find it. Mr Okunala refused him admission and said they would locate the phone the next day.

Mr Cawley then walked into Cork city centre, where his movements were caught by various CCTV cameras.

Around 5am, he returned to the apartment complex and was shocked to see the disarray inside flat No 26.

Mr Cawley discovered the body of Santina lying naked and unresponsive on a duvet. He woke Karen Harrington, who was lying on a nearby couch.

The child had visible bruising to her face and head.

Mr Gillane said evidence will be entered to show that the defendant then left the apartment complex.

Gardaí arrived and Santina received emergency medical treatment at the scene before being rushed to CUH, where she was pronounced dead.

Mr Cawley was in a very ­distressed state at the scene.

The case is likely to last four weeks.

Brendan Grehan SC is the counsel for the defence.

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