Accused Karen Harrington offered ‘donut-shaped’ account in murder trial of Santina Cawley (2), says prosecution in closing arguments

The claim came as closing arguments and the judge's charge to the jury began in the three-week Cork murder trial

38-year-old Karen Harrington of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork who denies the murder of Santina Cawley pictured at the Central Criminal Court, Cork.

Santina Cawley

Ralph Riegel

Prosecutors claim murder accused Karen Harrington (38) offered "a donut-shaped" account with a massive hole in the middle in respect of the hours in which toddler Santina Cawley (2) suffered fatal injuries.

The claim came as closing arguments and the judge's charge to the jury began in the three-week Cork murder trial.

The jury were warned that the trial "was not a morality play" about drinking, smoking or children being kept up late - and told: "This is about what happened to that child (Santina) that morning."

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.

Karen 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 Limerick 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 post mortem examination 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.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster - who has conducted over 16,000 post mortem examinations throughout her career - said she "absolutely" believed the injuries involved 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 and the traumatic brain injury would have left the child in a deep coma.

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

Karen Harrington insisted from the witness stand on Wednesday that: "I did not murder Santina Cawley."

"I did not inflict injuries on Santina Cawley."

The defendant added that: "I cannot give a detailed account" of precisely how the child suffered her devastating injuries.

The trial is now in its twelfth day.

In his closing argument, Sean Gillane SC, for the State, said the prosecution believed the evidence pointed in only one direction.

"Karen Harrington being trusted with a child is not beyond the point. Karen Harrington being trusted with a child is the point. Michael Cawley trusted her with his child," he said.

"Sometimes, people you trust betray that trust and do terrible things.

"I submit there is only one conclusion - that Karen Harrington is guilty of the murder of Santina Cawley.

"In this case Karen Harrington is like someone walking between the rain drops, convincing herself she is not getting wet.

"The only person she is convincing is herself. Because the raindrops in this case is the evidence and she stands drenched to her neck in the evidence."

Mr Gillane said the defendant was "unable to utter a single syllable in terms of anything that happened to Santina.

"(She offered) a donut-shaped account - with a massive hole in the middle."

Mr Gillane also claimed the defendant had engaged in a constant refrain in her interviews with gardai.

Santina Cawley

"(She said) I am a caring person - it is a refrain, it is a chorus, it is a drumbeat in those interviews.

"(But) I say to you that even on her own account there is only one explanation (for what happened)."

He claimed there was ample evidence that the defendant was the only person in the apartment with Santina from 3am to 5am.

Mr Cawley's movements around Cork city centre between those hours were caught on multiple CCTV cameras.

He said that there was also evidence that, during the same period, Karen Harrington was heard screaming, shouting and slamming an apartment door open and closed in Elderwood.

One Elderwood neighbour said he had heard the sound of a child crying in Apartment 26 - and the youngster then being taunted and mocked.

The prosecutor said that when Santina was left alone in the apartment with the defendant at 3am by her father before he walked into Cork city, the child was alive, well and uninjured.

Mr Gillane said that Mr Cawley arrived back to the apartment just after 5am on July 5 to discover "a scene of utter horror."

The prosecutor argued that the spine of the CCTV, forensic and witness evidence clearly led to Karen Harrington.

"There is a line of unanswerable evidence...there are paths of deliberate violence directed to a child coming together."

However, Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, said Karen Harrington's position has never altered that she did not murder Santina.

"What I say to you on behalf of Ms Harrington, Ms Harrington's shield, is that she did not murder Santina.

"The fact that she cannot explain what happened is not enough (for a conviction).

"She says she does not know what happened. What she does say is she did not do this and she could not do this.

"Karen Harrington does not accept that she is responsible for inflicting these injuries."

Mr Grehan said that it was "a horrible...harrowing case" but Ms Harrington took the "unusual step" of taking to the witness stand to insist on oath to the jury she did not hurt Santina.

He said the evidence was that the defendant was a person in her 30s who was caring and with no history of violence.

"She is adamant that she did not harm Santina and that is her evidence.

"There is no forensic (evidence) really that make the case which the prosecution want to make.

"What the case is lacking is the forensic link that could put it beyond doubt - it is just not there.

"She accepts that the evidence points to (her) but she insists she did not do it. She has never wavered throughout (about her innocence)."

Mr Grehan urged the jury to acquit the defendant given the reasonable doubt involved.

The trial continues with Mr Justice MacGrath undertaking his charge to the jury.

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