Mother's words as toddler's killer jailed for murder in Ireland

‘How could anyone be so cruel to a two-year-old? How can you hurt a baby like this?’ Anguished mother’s words as the girlfriend of her toddler’s father is jailed for life for murder in Ireland

  • Karen Harrington was found guilty of murdering two-year-old Santina Cawley
  • She had inflicted dozens of devastating injuries on the defenceless child 
  • Bridget O’Donoghue said that the day Satnina died she took part of her mother with her

The parents of murdered toddler Santina Cawley have spoken of their pain since her life was taken by Karen Harrington.

Yesterday, Harrington was found guilty of the two-year-old girl’s murder and jailed for life.

She had inflicted dozens of devastating injuries on the defenceless child, including fractures of her arms, legs and skull, and leaving bruises on her entire body.

Harrington, of Lakeland’s Crescent, Cork was on trial charged with the Santina’s murder in July 2019, at a Central Criminal Court that was sitting in Cork city.

The jury took four hours and 46 minutes to return a unanimous guilty verdict following the fortnight-long trial.

Harrington had been in a relationship with the father of the child, Michael Cawley, at the time of the offence.

The trial was told that Mr Cawley had trusted Karen and did not have any concerns about leaving his daughter with her. Santina was found by Mr Cawley, critically injured under a soiled duvet on the morning of July 5, 2019 at the apartment of his then partner Harrington.

Santina was naked and clumps of the little girl’s hair were found in the woman’s apartment.

The injuries were so devastating that there was no chance of survival for the toddler.

The parents of murdered toddler Santina Cawley (pictured) have spoken of their pain since her life was taken by Karen Harrington

Mr Cawley, in a victim impact statement delivered via a Garda family liaison officer, said: ‘The worst thing was finding her disfigured body under a blanket.

‘I will be haunted by this horror for the remainder of my life. This is beyond words. I have no words.

‘The trial is a difficult process, having to listen to graphic details of what happened to Santina, but a necessary one.’

Mr Cawley said that Santina was a ‘beautiful, happy, friendly, caring, fun loving’ girl.

‘She enjoyed life – always smiling, she loved life, everyone loved her. She brought joy to my heart. She was my pride and joy. I will always be so proud of her.

‘When I look at some of her clothes and toys in her bedroom it breaks my heart. I miss the sound of her sweet little voice, her laugh, her smile, her beautiful blue eyes and red hair.

‘She loved music, playing with her dolls and her sisters and brothers,’ he said.

‘She loved being involved with everything with was happening around her, folding clothes and helping around the house.’

Mr Cawley said that Santina’s birthday fell on May 6.

‘It breaks my heart to visit her grave. All I have now are heavenly birthdays and memories.

‘These beautiful memories can never be taken from me. This is honestly the worst thing any parent can go through. I would not wish this on any family,’ his statement said.

Mr Cawley added that his plan is to cherish the two-and-a-half years he had with his ‘beautiful little girl’ before thanking gardaí, voluntary group Support After Homicide, mental health workers, Cork University Hospital, first responders, ambulance staff and the legal teams and the jury.

Yesterday, Harrington (pictured) was found guilty of the two-year-old girl’s murder and jailed for life. She had inflicted dozens of devastating injuries on the defenceless child, including fractures of her arms, legs and skull, and leaving bruises on her entire body

Bridget O’Donoghue, Santina’s mother, also delivered a powerful victim impact statement through a Garda liaison officer.

Ms O’Donoghue said: ‘She was a premature baby. She was small but she was a fighter. She was loved and adored by her family the minute we saw her.

‘She was the baby of our family, loved cherished and spoiled by us all. Especially her nana. She loved her trips to town with me and her Nana. She as clever and bright. She knew all the names of the Teletubbies and was a happy soul.

‘She was very soft and gentle yet was hardy, determined and a little fighter,’ she said.

Ms O’Donoghue said that she would never forget the knock on the door in the early hours of May 5, 2019 when a garda told her she needed to come to the hospital as her child was fighting for her life.

‘There seemed to be so many doctors and nurses around. I did not understand what was happening. Eventually I was told that Santina had passed away from the her injuries and I went in to a state of shock. I could not believe what I had been told.

‘When I asked to see her, she was put in my arms and I could not believe the condition of her.

‘She was covered in bruises from head to toe.’

Ms O’Donoghue said that the day Santina died she took part of her mother with her.

‘I am devastated. My heart is in pieces and the hurt continues every day. So many times I have wished I could turn the clock back. The disbelief that this could have happened haunts me to this day. My last memory of Santina was her hugging and squeezing me and not wanting to leave me.

‘I thought I was leaving her for an overnight stay with her dad and would see her the next day.

‘I hope in Santina’s last moment she remembered and felt the love of me her mother, her nana and family. I want to get justice for my daughter.

‘It will be the last thing I can do for her. I hope in her short life she will remember how much she was loved and adored by me and her brothers and sisters and the bond she shared with her nana.’

Ms O’Donoghue said that she felt immense anger towards Harrington.

Family and relatives of 2 year old Santina Cawley carry her remains at her funeral at North Cathedral, Cork

‘I continuously ask myself how could someone be so cruel to a two-year-old. A soft and gentle soul. Just how can you hurt a baby like this?

‘What was Santina thinking and feeling during her terrible death?’ she added.

Ms O’Donoghue thanked gardaí, ambulance and fire service and the media. She also thanked her mother Eileen for her support.

After Judge Michael McGrath sentenced Harrington to mandatory life imprisonment, he commended the jury and exempted them from further jury service for life.

He also spoke of the efforts of gardaí and the ‘difficult matter’ for them to investigate.

He commended Mr Cawley for the ‘courage and dignity’ he displayed whilst giving evidence in the ‘heartwrenching’ case, with the circumstances being ‘beyond description’.

Senior investigating officer Detective Inspector Danny Coholan issued a statement thanking the community in Cork for their assistance and co operation.

He also thanked the dedicated investigating team saying that obtaining justice for Santina was always the ultimate goal for the team.

He remarked: ‘This was a particularly emotive case for the members that attended the scene and the investigation team, many having children of a similar age.

‘Santina was always in our thoughts,’ he added.

‘We would like again to publicly express our sympathies to Santina’s family and An Garda Síochána will continue to support them as they continue to grieve for Santina.’

The two-week trial heard how Santina had sustained 53 catastrophic injuries including fractures to her skull, two fractured ribs, fractures to her right arm and left leg and bruising to her entire body.

The first officer who arrived at the scene, Garda David Tobin, told how Santina was lying on a quilt and looked like a child’s doll.

He said: ‘The best way I can describe it is her legs were twisted in like a child’s doll. Her eyes were only slightly open. Her hands were lying by her side. Her head was back and she was naked and she had a bruise on her forehead and she was not breathing. I think there was a small bit of blood in her mouth.’

Neighbours had reported hearing an ‘almighty commotion’ coming from the apartment during the night with one neighbour Dylan Olney giving evidence he heard Harrington taunting the child and telling her to ‘shut up’. The jury was told she was ‘mocking, taunting and terrorising’ little Santina.

Neighbours also reporting listening to shouting and roaring from the apartment with Harrington slamming a sliding door 30 to 40 times shouting incoherently ‘everyone wake the f*** up’.

Assistant State pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster told the court the skull fracture would have stopped her ability to cry. She would have lapsed into a coma.

Dr Bolster gave evidence that Santina died as a result of a traumatic brain injury and upper spinal cord injury coupled with polytrauma and lower limb injuries due to blunt force trauma.

She said the blunt force trauma arose when Santina was struck with something or struck against something. She stressed the injuries were not consistent with an accidental fall pointing to the multiplicity of injuries and the fact they were all over her body.

Santina had bruising to her forehead, side of the face, lower jaw in addition to her right arm, lower left arm, hands and feet while she also found a tear to the philtrum – the flesh between the upper lip and gum.

The assistant State pathologist said that Santina had bleeding of one centimetre deep under her scalp while there was also bleeding into the spinal cord for the full length of her spinal cord.

Harrington had given evidence in the witness box where she vehemently denied any involvement in the murder.

Under cross examination by Seán Gillane, SC for the prosecution, she said she was not responsible for the child’s murder.

Mr Gillane asked Harrington to ‘solve the mystery’ of what had occurred to Santina. Harrington said she had thought about that for three years and had no answer. He said: ‘Santina did not cause the injuries to herself. Do you accept that the only person with her was you?’ Harrington replied: ‘No.’

She said she had been woken from her sleep in her apartment at 3am and a row had ‘escalated’ with her then partner Mr Cawley.

She accepted he left shortly after and he left alone leaving Santina in the apartment.

Harrington also agreed that she and Santina were alone for a period of time in the apartment.

Mr Gillane put it to Harrington that when Mr Cawley left Santina was ‘alive and uninjured’. Harrington said she couldn’t confirm that.

She denied taunting the child as reported to gardaí by Mr Olney and claimed that she was ‘crying through the night’ herself.

Harrington told the court: ‘I did not inflict injuries on Santina Cawley.’

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