Prosecutors said murder suspect Karen Harrington, 38, offered “a donut-shaped” account with a massive hole in the middle in reference to the hours two-year-old Santina Cawley suffered fatal injuries.
The allegation came as a closing argument and the judge’s indictment to the jury began in the three-week murder trial in Cork.
The jury was warned by prosecutors that the trial was “not a moral game” about drinking, smoking or children staying up late, saying: “This is about what happened to that child that morning.”
Mrs Harrington, of Lakelands Crescent, Mahon, Cork, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Santina.
The Central Criminal Court trial is before Justice Michael MacGrath and a jury of seven men and four women.
Santina was found naked on a dirty blanket with serious injuries at 26 Elderwood Park, off Boreenmanna Road, Cork, at 5am on 5 July 2019. Karen Harrington was living in the apartment at the time.
The child was discovered seriously injured when her father, Michael Cawley, 37, was returning to his then-girlfriend’s flat, having left the property at 3am two hours earlier to walk alone into Cork city center to meet his to find a cousin.
Mr Cawley, who was separated from his wife Bridget – Santina’s mother – had left his daughter in the care of Mrs Harrington at their home for over two hours that night while he arrived in Cork.
Despite desperate efforts by doctors and paramedics to stabilize the little girl’s condition, she was pronounced dead shortly after being admitted to Cork University Hospital (CUH).
A post-mortem was performed at CUH and found she suffered multiple trauma and “devastating injuries with no prospect of recovery,” including a fractured skull, traumatic brain injury and a serious spinal injury.
Almost every part of the child’s body showed bruises and abrasions. Ms Harrington insisted on the witness stand on Wednesday: “I did not murder Santina Cawley.”
In his closing argument, Sean Gillane SC said for the state the evidence only pointed in one direction.
“For Karen Harrington to be entrusted with a child is no exaggeration,” he said.
“Caring for a child with Karen Harrington is the whole point. Michael Cawley entrusted his child to her.
“Sometimes people you trust betray that trust and do terrible things.
“I contend that there is only one conclusion – that Karen Harrington is guilty of the murder of Santina Cawley. [She offered] a donut-shaped account – with a huge hole in the middle.”
However, Brendan Grehan SC, for the defence, said Ms Harrington’s position never changed that she did not murder Santina.
“What I’m telling you on behalf of Ms. Harrington, Ms. Harrington’s shield, is that she did not murder Santina,” he said.
“The fact that she cannot explain what happened is not enough [for a conviction].
“She says she doesn’t know what happened. What she is saying is that she did not and could not do this.
Mr Grehan said it was “a horrific, harrowing case” but Ms Harrington took the “unusual step” of taking the witness stand to insist on the jury’s oath that she did not injure Santina.
“There is no forensics [evidence]really, that makes the case that the prosecution wants to make,” he said.
“What the case lacks is the forensic connection that could put it beyond a reasonable doubt – it’s just not there.
“She accepts that the evidence points to that [her], but she insists she didn’t. She never wavered the whole time [about her innocence].”
Mr Grehan asked the jury to acquit the defendant given the reasonable doubts.
Mr Justice MacGrath’s indictment to the jury continues today and the members will then begin their deliberations.