Karen Harrington (38) was expressionless as she received a life sentence after a Central Criminal Court jury rejected what prosecutors slated as her “doughnut-shaped” argument that she did not kill toddler Santina Cawley (2).
Harrington had pleaded not guilty to the murder of the little girl in the early hours of July 5, 2019 at Apartment 26, Elderwood Park off Cork's Boreenmanna Road.
However, the jury of seven men and four women convicted her after hearing detailed prosecution evidence over the four-week trial that Harrington was the only person in the apartment with Santina between 3.10am and 5.11am at the time she suffered her fatal injuries including a fractured skull, traumatic brain injury and severe spinal cord injury.
When discovered by her father Michael Cawley (37), who returned to Apartment 26 at 5.11am, Santina was lying naked and blood-spattered on a dirty duvet. Clumps of her hair were lying on the floor and on the couch.
Harrington's DNA was found in a blood sample recovered from the toddler's pink T-shirt, while the child's DNA was found in a blood spatter on female adult leggings found by gardaí in a back bedroom of the apartment.
Sean Gillane SC, for the State, said Harrington's argument effectively had "a donut-shaped hole in it".
He 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,” he said.
Harrington could not explain how Santina had suffered her horrific injuries - and could not say who was responsible.
Clumps of Santina's hair had been pulled out and an earring stud was found lying on the floor. The child's clothing was damaged, with indications it had been torn off. Santina's nappy was found caught within her pants lying on the floor.
Mr Gillane also claimed the defendant had engaged in a constant refrain in her interviews with gardaí.
"(She said) I am a caring person - it is a refrain, it is a chorus, it is a drumbeat in those interviews,” he said.
"(But) I say to you that even on her own account there is only one explanation (for what happened)."
The prosecutor argued that the spine of the CCTV, forensic and witness evidence clearly led to one person – Karen Harrington.
"There is a line of unanswerable evidence...there are paths of deliberate violence directed to a child coming together,” he said.
The defendant admitted during garda interviews after her arrest on July 8, 2019 that the garda evidence pointed to her - but steadfastly maintained she had not killed the child.
The State argued that hundreds of hours of CCTV footage showed that the only person who entered and left Apartment 26 with Santina during the critical time period involved in the early hours of July 5 was Karen Harrington.
The CCTV footage not only indicated she was alone with Santina in Apartment 26, Elderwood Park, off off Cork’s Boreenmanna Road‘s Boreenmanna Road, but it also confirmed Santina’s father was, as he had always insisted, away from the apartment between 3.10am and 5.11am on July 5, 2019.
The cameras showed absolutely no hint of any mysterious stranger who might have sneaked into her apartment and attacked the child while Harrington slept on the couch.
CCTV indicated no one but Harrington entered and left Apartment 26 between 3.10am and 5.11am by which time Santina was in a coma from horrific head injuries.
Neighbours had told gardaí of Karen Harrington screaming and shouting in the early hours of July 5 - and repeatedly slamming the sliding door of her apartment to demand that "everybody wake the f*** up".
During her garda statements and in direct testimony to the trial, Karen Harrington said she was unable to explain how Santina suffered her devastating injuries.
"I cannot answer that (how Santina was injured)," she said in direct testimony at the trial.
"I am not escaping anything. 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.
"I did not murder Santina Cawley.
"I did not inflict injuries on Santina Cawley - I accept that I did not do this to Santina. It is not for me... I am not in a position to answer. I don't know."
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 by a female.
The defendant insisted she was a very caring person - and did not know how to hurt a child.
"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. I accept I did not do this to Santina,” she said.
"I do not know what happened between 3am and 5am - I was suddenly woken from my sleep."
However, in an emotional video-recorded interview with gardaí on July 9, 2019, she said: "The evidence looks like it is all on me, all on me. This is pointing to me... it all says that I went mad. I don't know. Jesus Christ. I can't remember. I'm sick."
Santina was discovered with a total of 53 separate injuries - 49 external bruises, abrasions and wounds, and four internal injuries.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster conducted a post-mortem at Cork University Hospital (CUH) and found the toddler had suffered poly-trauma and died from a traumatic brain injury having suffered a complex skull fracture, a severe spinal cord injury and fragmenting fractures to both her leg and arm.
The skull fracture resulted in a 10cm portion of Santina's skull being displayed. She was bleeding both into and around her spinal cord in the neck area.
Dr Bolster warned that the injuries were not accidental - and the traumatic brain injury would have resulted in Santina immediately slipping into a deep coma.
The injuries sustained by the child were described as "unrecoverable".
Dr Bolster said the blunt force trauma injuries were likely caused by Santina being struck against something rather than with something.
Santina was rushed to CUH before 6am but never regained consciousness and doctors ceased life-saving activity at 9.05am. The toddler was placed in the arms of her mother, Bridget, and was pronounced dead at 9.20am.
Santina's father Michael Cawley was separated from his wife, Bridget, and was in a relationship with Karen Harrington since December 2018.
The trial heard that Santina was discovered at 5.11am by her father, who had left her in the care of the defendant for two hours while he walked into Cork city centre to search for his cousin.
Mr Cawley left Santina at Apartment 26 at 3.10am and departed the Elderwood complex at 3.17am.
Almost every movement of his from Elderwood to Cork city centre and back again over those two hours was caught on CCTV camera footage.
When he left, Santina and Karen Harrington were alone in Apartment 26. The prosecution maintained Santina was alive and well when Mr Cawley departed.
He had been socialising with Karen Harrington in a neighbouring flat in the Elderwood complex on the evening of July 4 and into the early hours of July 5. Both had been drinking and were accompanied by Santina.
Karen Harrington had earlier been drinking with her neighbour, Martina Higgins, at Cork's Atlantic Pond and had smoked some cannabis.
The trial heard a row broke out between the defendant and Mr Cawley around 1.30am. The defendant did not want Mr Cawley's Limerick cousin coming to the Elderwood complex - and also insisted that Mr Cawley had to look after his own daughter.
Mr Cawley, according to various witness statements, called Karen Harrington "a bitch," "a c***" and "a prostitute" and told her to "go back to your Pakis".
The defendant became very upset and left the apartment of Martina Higgins and Eric Okunala at 1.25am and returned home alone to No 26 Elderwood Park at 1.31am.
"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 told the trial.
Mr Okunala said the row erupted when Mr Cawley wanted a relative from Limerick to come to the area, with both Karen Harrington and his partner 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.
At 3.01am, Mr Cawley left the apartment of Ms Higgins and Mr Okunala, having had a row with Mr Okunala over an end being brought to the drinking session.
Mr Okunala, who was not drinking, wanted Mr Cawley to leave so everyone could go to sleep with young children present in the apartment.
Mr Cawley took his shirt off and indicated he would fight Mr Okunala - but Mr Okunala called the gardaí and Mr Cawley left after apologising to him.
Gardaí arrived at the complex but left after being told the matter was resolved.
The trial heard Mr Cawley returned for a few minutes to Karen Harrington's home, where he placed Santina on a blanket before leaving again at 3.10am to go look for his mobile phone and, later, his cousin in Cork city centre. He walked alone into Cork city centre.
Mr Cawley raised the alarm when he returned to Elderwood after 5am and discovered a "scene of utter horror", with Santina lying naked and bleeding on a dirty duvet.
He said he got "the shock of my life" when he found Santina naked and critically injured in Apartment 26 at 5.11am.
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 during the trial.
He broke down a second time when he viewed other CCTV images of him going into Apartment 26 at 5.11am to discover his badly injured daughter.
"Finding my daughter was a terrible shock," he said.
"Santina got on with everyone. Everyone loved her. She had a great relationship with people. She was very friendly.
"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."
Later, gardaí attending the scene said Mr Cawley approached the defendant and shouted at her that she had killed his daughter and was "a monster".
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.
The trial viewed extensive CCTV footage which tracked Mr Cawley's movements around Cork city centre between 3am and 5am.
At that time, Dylan Olney, who lived in No 27 Elderwood Park, said he heard roaring, screaming and the sound of a baby crying coming from Karen Harrington's apartment next door.
He said he heard the crying baby being mocked and taunted: "Ah poor baby, alright - stop crying baby, something like that. I think I heard her say 'stop it' or 'shut up'. (But) the cries were only getting worse. I said I better call the cops because I did not like what was going on."
Mr Olney - who had earlier confronted Karen Harrington about her screaming and loud slamming of a sliding door - said he was "creeped out" by her behaviour shortly before 4am.
He called gardaí but when he let them into the Elderwood complex at 4.52am, there was no answer from Apartment 26 and utter silence from within.
"There was dead silence - you could hear a pin drop," Mr Olney said.
Minutes later, Mr Cawley arrived and discovered his daughter lying bleeding and critically injured inside the apartment.
Before he went into the apartment, he met Mr Olney, who said Karen Harrington had "gone mad".
“(Mr Olney said she was) roaring and screaming to your baby. Is that your baby in there?,” Mr Cawley said.
Mr Cawley said he found a scene of horror inside the apartment.
"There was blood on the floor near the sink. There was broken glass on the ground. Karen was on the couch lying down," he said.
"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,” he said.
"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."
Gardaí were then called to the Elderwood complex for the third time in just over two hours.
Mr Cawley said the defendant then ran from the scene.
"She (Karen Harrington) just ran down the stairs and left through the bottom of the apartment through the front door,” he said.
The trial heard that Karen Harrington ran barefoot from the complex and, when she arrived at a friend's house in Blackrock, her feet were bleeding.
Her friend Yvonne Walsh immediately drove her back to the Elderwood complex, where gardaí and paramedics were now desperately trying to stabilise Santina's condition.
The defendant voluntarily attended Bridewell garda station and gave gardaí a statement as well as forensic samples.
A blood sample taken from her at 11.10am on July 5 tested negative for alcohol. The only drug found present was traces of Diazepam (valium).
Karen Harrington also voluntarily gave her clothing to gardaí.
Mr Cawley declined to go to a garda station at 5am until he knew the condition of his daughter.
After being refused admission to the ambulance bringing his daughter to CUH for medical reasons, Mr Cawley walked almost 7km to CUH. He was accompanied by a garda who was concerned for him.
Mr Cawley later brought gardaí to his Grattan Street flat and surrendered his clothing.
Subsequent tests revealed no trace of blood on his T-shirt, shorts or trainers.
Elderwood neighbours said they were awoken after 5am on July 5 to the anguished screams and wails of a man who was shouting: "My baby is dead, my baby is dead."