Cork trial | 

Karen Harrington says ‘I did not murder Santina Cawley’ as she takes the stand

'I can't answer that (who killed the child). I am unsure to say,' she told defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Santina Cawley. Photo: Provision

Ralph Riegel

Murder accused Karen Harrington (38) offered sworn evidence in her own defence as she insisted at her trial she did not kill or injure Cork toddler Santina Cawley (2).

The defendant took the stand as the prosecution case closed in the murder trial which has been under way for three weeks in Cork.

"That I did not murder Santina Cawley," Karen Harrington insisted from the witness box.

"I can't answer that (who killed the child). I am unsure to say," she told defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC.

Ms Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Santina at a Central Criminal Court trial before Mr Justice Michael MacGrath and a jury of seven men and four women.

Santina was found lying naked on a soiled blanket with critical injuries at 26 Elderwood Park, off the Boreenamanna Road in Cork city, at 5am on July 5, 2019. Ms Harrington lived in the flat at the time.

The little girl was discovered badly injured when her father, Michael Cawley (37), returned to his then-girlfriend's flat having left the property two hours earlier at 3am to walk alone into Cork city centre in a bid to locate his cousin.

Mr Cawley, who was separated from his wife Bridget, Santina's mother, had left his daughter in the care of the defendant at her apartment for over two hours that night while he walked to Cork city centre.

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

A postmortem was conducted at CUH which found Santina had sustained poly-trauma and "devastating injuries with no chance of recovery" including a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury and a severe spinal injury.

Santina Cawley. Photo: Provision

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster – who has conducted over 16,000 post mortem examinations throughout her career – said she "absolutely" believed the injuries were non-accidental.

Santina had fractures to her skull, arm humerus, leg femur and ribs.

Virtually every part of the child's body displayed bruises and abrasions.

The complex fracture to her skull had displaced an entire 10cm portion of the skull bone.

Dr Bolster said it was more likely that Santina was forcibly struck against something rather than being struck with something.

In sworn evidence today, which lasted almost 15 minutes, Karen Harrington insisted she did not know how the child suffered such fatal injuries.

"I am not escaping anything," she said in cross-examination with Sean Gillane SC, for the State.

"I don't know exactly what happened in that period of time."

"It is not all blank...there are parts of the night I do recall. As regards what happened to Santina and her injuries, I can't give a detailed account."

Mr Gillane put it to the defendant that she had inflicted the horrific injuries on the child.

He challenged her to help solve the mystery over what had happened to the little girl.

"I did not inflict injuries on Santina Cawley," she replied.

Mr Gillane put it to her that she was the only person in the apartment with Santina between just after 3am and minutes after 5am when the child was discovered in a critical condition.

"I accept that I did not do this to Santina," she said.

Karen Harrington was asked who did inflict the injuries on Santina?

"It is not for me...I am not in a position to answer. I don't know.

"I accept that Santina did not do it. I am not trying to say anything."

She stressed that she was not mocking or taunting the child that night – and challenged the evidence of a neighbour who said they heard a crying child being taunted in the apartment.

When asked about being the only person in the flat with Santina during the entire time period involved, the witness challenged the statement.

"I would disagree with that – I have thought about that over the past three years," she replied.

"(But) I accept that me and Santina were alone for a period of time in my apartment."

Ms Harrington insisted she did not notice any injuries on Santina until she was awoken from her sleep by Michael Cawley who arrived back at her flat after 5am having walked back from Cork city.

"I didn't myself (notice injuries before being awoken at 5am). I can recall back. I don't envision any bruises or blood or anything like that."

"I don't know anything about them."

Sean Gillane SC, for the State, also read statements to the jury on the 11th day of the trial which were taken by gardaí from two teenagers at the sprawling Elderwood estate.

One teen said they overheard the sound of a loud dispute between a woman (Karen Harrington) and Michael Cawley, Santina’s father.

The teen said that Karen Harrington was loudly crying because of things said to her by Mr Cawley in the early hours of July 5, 2019.

The witness told gardaí that Mr Cawley had called Karen Harrington "a bitch," "a c***" and "a prostitute" and told her to "go back to your P*kis".

Karen Harrington was crying loudly and was walking back to her apartment in the complex.

"She was crying because of the things Michael Cawley had called her," the witness said.

They added that Ms Harrington was adamant Mr Cawley had to look after Santina.

"(She said) ‘she is your child - she is nothing to do with me’," the court heard.

Another teen was awoken by the sound of screaming and roaring at the complex at around 1.30am.

The witness said she saw one female "shouting at a woman running down the road".

The teen said she recognised the female but did not know the other woman.

The trial previously heard that Ms Harrington was arrested on July 8, 2019, at an address in Blackrock and taken to Gurranabraher Garda Station for questioning.

She gave a total of five interviews to gardaí between July 8 and 9 after her arrest.

The accused wept repeatedly during her fifth and final interview as gardaí showed her photographs of the blood-spattered Elderwood apartment and said all the evidence was painting a picture of what had happened.

The court heard she told gardaí: "I know...(but) I have no explanation. There is nothing coming to my mind. A murdered child...Jesus Christ.”

"I can see where it is all leading to but I don't know.

"Oh Jesus Christ – it is making out like I did it. But I would not harm a child. I have never killed anyone.

"I would never, ever harm no baby. I would harm no child – I am around children all my life. I have never hurt a child in my life.

"I did not murder Santina. I didn't murder anybody. I have no recollection – I would not hurt her.

"Oh God, I really don't know. Oh f***ing hell. Jesus Christ. I have nothing, no explanation. Oh God, I can't explain it. There is nothing coming to my mind at all. Jesus Christ."

The defendant sobbed as she insisted to gardaí she did not harm the child.

"I would not hurt a child, like. That is 100pc true (she insisted she had soothed and settled Santina to bed after Michael Cawley left the apartment). I fell asleep myself – it is true."

Inspector David Callaghan said that in her final garda interview, Ms Harrington was asked about what had happened to the defenceless child as various garda evidence was put to her.

Det Garda David Noonan said gardaí were following the evidence and wanted the truth over what happened to Santina.

"A two-year-old child...a defenceless child...(was) murdered in your address," he said.

"Our investigation follows the evidence and there is no stone left unturned. The evidence paints a picture," he told the defendant.

Det Garda Noonan pointed to various scene photographs during the interview.

"Blood...blood...blood – in my kitchen, my home," the defendant said.

"(Was it) mine? I cut my foot. These pictures are making me, like, sick."

Gardaí said they only wanted the truth about what had happened to Santina that night.

"I feel sick – I can't explain. I am going mad (at the audio recording of a woman screaming in the early hours of July 5.) I have no memory of that. Holy Jesus Christ."

She said the evidence shown to her by gardaí hinted that she had gone mad.

"This all says to me that I went mad. I don't know. Oh Jesus Christ."

The defendant was adamant she never taunted and harmed a defenceless child – and moaned audibly during the interview as she viewed scene photographs and images of the injuries suffered by Santina.

"I wasn't taunting the child...I did not taunt no-one. I put her on the blanket (to go to sleep) at one or two stages. I had no reason to taunt a child."

"No way...I did not murder Santina."

"I don't know – honest to God, I don't know how to harm a child. I can't explain anything. It is not that I won't (remember) – I can't. I really don't know."

She insisted she had no recollection of some parts of the early hours of July 5.

"I can't explain that night – honest to God, I would if I could."

Gardaí asked the defendant about blood found on floral-designed leggings located in an apartment bedroom.

"I don't know – I have no memory of it at all, at all, at all. Was it my blood? Jesus Christ, like – I am going to be sick. Jesus Christ, like."

The defendant also said she felt ill when asked about clumps of Santina's hair being located on the floor and couch of the apartment.

"Jesus Christ – I am going to be sick."

Det Garda Noonan said the defendant was the only person in the apartment with Santina after 3am when Michael Cawley walked into Cork city.

"Michael Cawley was not there. We have him on CCTV in Cork city. You were the only person in the apartment. You had Santina last and she was alive then," he said.

He challenged the defendant as to how Santina sustained her devastating injuries.

The defendant repeatedly sobbed as she said she did not harm Santina.

"Oh Jesus – I didn't hurt (the) child. I swear...honest to God. No (memory of it) at all, at all."

Inspector Noonan, in cross-examination with Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, confirmed that Ms Harrington "does not have a history of violence".

He also acknowledged that while gardaí formally put it to her that the evidence pointed to her, she did not budge from her fundamental position that she never harmed anyone and couldn't remember parts of July 5.

The jury were also read details of statements Ms Harrington gave to gardaí on July 5.

Ms Harrington voluntarily agreed to go to the Bridewell Garda Station in the hours after Santina was found critically injured on July 5.

At the station, she asked Det Sergeant Clodagh O'Sullivan how Santina was?

"I informed her that Santina had passed away – she said she felt sick."

The trial was told Ms Harrington voluntarily gave her clothing to gardaí for testing and also agreed to supply blood, fingernail and swab samples.

The trial, which is expected to last for four weeks, continues.

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