Devastation | 

Mother's fury as Santina Cawley's callous killer Karen Harrington offers no explanation

'I wonder was Santina looking for me in those last moments? What was Santina thinking and feeling during her terrible death'

Ralph Riegel

The heartbroken mother of murdered toddler Santina Cawley has said she wonders if her child was looking for her in her final moments.

Bridget O’Donoghue said killer Karen Harrington (38) has offered no explanation for why she attacked two-year-old Santina.

Speaking today, Bridget said: "I feel angry at Karen Harrington who murdered my baby. I am very angry at that woman.

“She just sat there in court as like nothing had happened. She was playing the game - she really upset me.

"Why did you do that to my little baby? Why? That is the only thing I would ask her? But she did not give that answer. Why did she kill my little baby?

"She was only two - she was only a baby. What did she do (to Karen Harrington) - nothing at all."

Bridget said she will be haunted at the terror her child must have felt in her final, desperate moments in the apartment with her killer.

"I wonder was Santina looking for me in those last moments? What was Santina thinking and feeling during her terrible death."

Bridget said she lost a part of herself the day her youngest baby was murdered.

"The day Santina passed away she took part of me with her.

"I am devastated - my heart is in pieces and that hurt continues every day. The happiness we have shared is what will stay with us and help us to keep going - but it is not easy."

Santina Cawley's mother Bridget O'Donoghue. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Cork Courts Limited

She recalled holding her daughter in her arms at Cork University Hospital (CUH) as they little girl died from her injuries.

"I had to go into that room (at CUH) - they (the doctors) said do I want to hold her? I said: 'What - do I want to hold her? Of course I want to hold her.' I held her and I was trying to warm her up. I did not want to believe she was dead.

"Her eyes were open - all I wanted was to take her home."

Bridget now takes meticulous care of Santina's grave.

"We have our lovely memories and that is what we have. But we will never get over what happened to my little baby. I just cannot believe someone could do that (to a child).

"The beating she got - it was horrible. You couldn't do that to a baby. You couldn't do that to nobody. It was horrifying. It was a brutal beating. And how she (Harrington) just looked there in the courtroom - thinking there was nothing happening. (But) she done it."

Bridget said it was very hurtful that Harrington offered no explanation or apology for the horrific events of July 5.

Santina’s father, Michael Cawley, said the circumstances of his daughter’s death were "brutal".

He said it was particularly difficult to have the murder trial sit on May 6 - the day that should have been Santina's fifth birthday.

He revealed that, with family members, he went to Santina's grave that day with cards and balloons to honour the child's memory.

Meanwhile it can be confirmed that Harrington refused to countenance any option of the lesser charge of manslaughter during her four-week Central Criminal Court trial in Cork.

Karen Harrington. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Cork Courts

Santina’s parents both stressed that they will be haunted by the horrific circumstances in which "soft, cute and defenceless" Santina was cruelly battered to death by Harrington – suffering a total of 53 separate injuries.

Bridget said she felt very angry after the sentencing hearing that Harrington offered no explanation for the brutal beating inflicted on Santina - and no public apology for killing the defenceless child.

The toddler sustained "unrecoverable" injuries in a brutal assault, sustaining a complex skull fracture, a traumatic brain injury and a severe spinal cord injury.

Such was the violence of the attack that every part of Santina's body had bruises and abrasions.

Santina was found at 5.11am on July 5, 2019, in Harrington's flat at Elderwood Park off Boreenmanna Road in Cork by her father Michael – and he was distraught to discover his little girl lying naked, blood-spattered and with clumps of her hair torn out on a filthy duvet.

Mr Cawley had left his daughter in the care of Karen Harrington at 3.10am as he walked into Cork city centre to locate his cousin.

He had been socialising with Harrington over the previous hours but she had gone to her home alone in a distressed condition at 1.30am after a verbal row in which Mr Cawley had called her "a prostitute" and accused her of being with foreigners.

He returned to the Elderwood complex at 5.11am - with his every movement around Cork city centre caught on CCTV cameras over the previous two hours.

The little girl died at CUH at 9.20am - minutes after doctors ceased all life-saving activity given the devastating nature of her injuries.

Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork was jailed for life after a Central Criminal Court jury convicted her by unanimous verdict of Santina's murder.

The conviction came after four hours and 46 minutes of deliberations over two days following a four-week trial.

Harrington remained totally emotionless as the verdict was read out.

She was silent and expressionless as Mr Justice Michael MacGrath imposed the mandatory life sentence - but she offered a brief bow in his direction as the judge ruled the sentence must give her credit for the eight days she spent in custody in July 2019.

Defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC, in sentencing submissions, said he was not in a position to address the court as he had received no

specific directions from his client.

"I have no instructions to say anything," he said.

Harrington offered no public apology for killing Santina - and displayed no remorse in court before being led away to commence her life sentence.

Both Bridget O'Donoghue and Michael Cawley were in Courtroom No 6 for Harrington's conviction and sentencing.

The couple have five children, Santina being the youngest, but they separated in 2018.

Mr Cawley began a sexual relationship with Karen Harrington in December 2018.

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