Tragic evidence | 

Santina Cawley's dad ran to neighbours screaming 'Karen is after smothering my child', court hears

The revelation came as Michael Cawley (37) twice broke down giving evidence at the Cork murder trial of his then girlfriend, Karen Harrington (37).

Michael Cawley broke down in court as he viewed CCTV images of him and his two-year-old daughter hours before she died.

Ralph Riegel

A father ran screaming to the house of a neighbour that his then girlfriend had "smothered" his two year old daughter, Santina Cawley (2).

The revelation came as Michael Cawley (37) twice broke down giving evidence at the Cork murder trial of his then girlfriend, Karen Harrington (37).

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

She denies the murder of Santina on July 5, 2019, at Apartment 26, Elderwood Park, just off the Boreenmanna Road in Cork.

Mr Cawley broke down twice as the murder trial was shown CCTV footage of him shopping with his little girl just hours before her death and later entering Apartment 26 at 5am on July 5 to discover Santina lying naked and critically injured on a blanket.

The child died shortly after being rushed to Cork University Hospital (CUH) having suffered a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury and a severe spinal injury.

Sean Gillane SC, for the State, said there were bruises to almost every part of Santina's body.

Santina Cawley died on July 5, 2019

In evidence on the fourth day of the trial, Elderwood neighbour, Eric Okunala recalled the events of July 4 and 5.

His partner, Martina Higgins, had been drinking with Mr Cawley and Karen Harrington at their home, just a short distance from Apartment 26 on July 4 and into the early hours of July 5.

Around 5am, Mr Okunala said he heard screaming outside the apartment.

"He (Mr Cawley) came back. He was banging on the door and screaming: 'Karen is after smothering my child'."

He said he realised that what Mr Cawley was screaming must be serious when he noted that gardaí were present.

His partner, Martina Higgins, said she was awoken by loud banging on their front door around 5am.

"He (Mr Cawley) was screaming: 'My child, my child, Santina, Santina, Karen killed my child. My child is dead. Something like that.' To be honest, Mike sounded frightened."

Karen Harrington is on trial for the murder of Santina Cawley

Mr Okunala said he had earlier wanted his partner, Ms Higgins, to stop drinking with Mr Cawley around 3am.

Karen Harrington had left the apartment an hour and a half earlier following a row with Mr Cawley and returned alone to Apartment 26.

"She (Karen) was very upset...crying and very loud. When she was at the end of the street I could still hear her."

Mr Okunala said the row erupted earlier in the apartment when Mr Cawley wanted a relative from Limerick to come to the area with both Karen Harrington and Martina Higgins objecting.

"Karen objected to that - Karen got very upset and got up screaming. They were just giving out to each other. I had never seen her (Karen) like that before," he said.

Later, Mr Okunala said he was shocked when Mr Cawley - having been asked to leave his apartment at 3am, suddenly wanted to fight him.

"He was running around the place and wanting to fight. I was shocked how he turned all of a sudden and wanted to fight. I rang the Gardaí."

At one point, Mr Cawley took off his shirt and brandished a 10kg weight.

When Mr Cawley heard gardaí had been called, he apologised to Mr Okunala and pleaded with him not to give his name to gardaí before he left the apartment with Santina of his own accord.

He also recalled that Mr Cawley earlier told him: "He has to get rid of the child...the child was crying."

Mr Okunala said he noted that Santina - who had suffered a previous leg injury - could not walk.

He said that the child didn't walk, did not talk and only moved by performing a kind of 'bum-shuffle.'

In cross-examination with Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, Mr Cawley said he got "the shock of my life" when he found Santina naked and critically injured in Apartment 26 at 5.11am.

Mr Cawley said he wondered whether his then-girlfriend had left the apartment where they were socialising because she wanted to smoke cannabis in her own apartment.

"I was thinking that Karen's reason (for leaving early) was to go back to her apartment to smoke some weed," he said.

"I was thinking that (cannabis smoking) afterwards."

Ms Higgins in her evidence said she had been drinking near the Atlantic Pond with Karen Harrington on July 4 and they had smoked a joint together.

They purchased alcohol with Mr Cawley and went to the apartment.

Mr Cawley, after viewing CCTV images of him shopping with Santina in a Cork Aldi branch on the evening of July 4, broke down and wept.

He broke down a second time when he viewed other CCTV images of him going into Apartment No 26 at 5.11am to discover his badly injured daughter.

The father paused for several moments before composing himself and resuming his evidence.

"Finding my daughter was a terrible shock," he said.

In reply to Mr Grehan, Mr Cawley said he thought his then-girlfriend had a good relationship with his daughter.

"Santina got on with everyone. Everyone loved her. She had a great relationship with people. She was very friendly," he said.

"I never imagined that (any difficulty between Karen Harrington and Santina). There was never a problem. Karen got on brilliant with her. I trusted Karen with Santina."

"I didn't think Karen would hurt my daughter."

The trial heard Mr Cawley returned to Apartment 26 for just a few minutes at 3am after leaving the other apartment - and then walked into Cork city centre.

He said Santina was left in the care of Karen Harrington.

Mr Cawley was gone from the Elderwood complex between 3am to 5am.

After discovering his daughter badly injured in Apartment 26 at 5.11am, Mr Cawley said he later challenged Karen Harrington if it was the blood of his daughter, Santina, he could see spattered all around her apartment and on his girlfriend's leg.

Mr Cawley said the defendant had indicated she would look after his daughter while he was gone from 3am.

"I asked her (Karen) to look after her (Santina). I wouldn't be too long (gone from the apartment). Karen said 'Yeah'. Santina was awake."

When he arrived back on foot at 5am, a neighbour (Dylan Olney) met him before he entered No 26.

"I asked what was going on. He said Karen is gone mad - roaring and screaming to your baby. Is that your baby in there? (He said) he could hear a baby crying."

Mr Cawley said he noticed that some rubber was now hanging loose from a sliding door of No 26.

When he went into the apartment, he was greeted by a scene of disarray with chairs scattered around the flat.

"There was blood on the floor near the sink. There was broken glass on the ground. Karen was on the couch lying down."

"I could see the blanket where Santina was but the blanket was over her face. She was on the same spot (where I left her). I asked Karen what was going on? What is happening?"

"I took the blanket off Santina. Santina was naked. She had no clothes on. She was wearing clothes when I left her."

Mr Cawley said he immediately realised his daughter was injured.

"Her one eye was half closed and the other was open. There was a bruise on her left face. I picked her up and she was warm."

"I tried to speak to her - I was on my knees crying: 'Santina, please, please say something.' I said to the neighbours to please call the guards."

"I was asking Karen what was going on with my baby...she didn't answer."

Mr Cawley said the defendant then left the scene.

"She (Karen Harrington) just ran down the stairs and left through the bottom of the apartment through the front door."

Mr Cawley said he later met the defendant outside the apartment when Gardai and paramedics were working in vain to save his daughter.

"I asked Karen was that my daughter's blood over all the kitchen? She said: 'No, that was my blood from my foot'. I was crying my heart out. I was in bits. I was in shock."

The trial was previously told by Mr Gillane that neighbours heard screaming, roaring and a child crying in Apartment No 26 around 4am on July 5.

Gardaí were alerted and arrived at the property at 4.52am.

However, they were unable to access No 26 and heard no sign of a disturbance.

Officers left at 5.01am - only to arrive back at the property at 5.23am when the alarm was raised after Santina was discovered critically injured on a duvet.

A neighbour, Dylan Olney, who lives at No 27, called gardaí having heard a loud disturbance coming from Karen Harrington's flat.

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

A post mortem examination was conducted at CUH which found Santina had sustained poly trauma and "devastating injuries with no chance of recovery."

When Gardai searched Harrington's apartment they discovered blood stains and clumps of the child's hair lying torn out by a couch.

A stud from Santina's left ear lobe was found lying on the floor.

"There was scarcely a part of her body that did not display some form of trauma," Mr Gillane said.

Mr Gillane said Mr Olney heard the sound of the defendant screaming - and then a child crying.

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

The trial, which is expected to last up to five weeks, resumes on Monday.

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