Sister Abhaya case: Priest, Nun found guilty of murder

Thiruvananthapuram: Twenty-eight years after the mysterious death of Sister Abhaya, an inmate of St.Pious convent at Kottayam in Kerala, a CBI special court here on Tuesday held it was a case of murder and found a priest and nun guilty of killing her.

Special CBI Judge K Sanal Kumar, while pronouncing the verdict, said the murder charges against the two will stand.

The court held that Fr Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy of the Catholic Church were guilty of murder under Sections 302 (punishment for murder) and 201 (tampering of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code.

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It also found Father Kottoor guilty of offence under Section 449 of the IPC (criminal trespass).

The court will pronounce the quantum of sentence on Wednesday.

The accused, who were on bail, were taken into judicial custody after the mandatory COVID-19 testing.

Father Kottoor was shifted to the Poojapura Central jail and Sister Sephy, to the Attakulangara women’s prison here.

The order came in connection with the controversial death of 21-year-old Abhaya, whose body was found in the well of St Pius convent on March 27, 1992.

Abhaya, a second year student of BCM college, Kottayam, was staying at the convent.

Another accused in the case, Fr JosePuthrikkayil, was discharged earlier due to lack of evidence.

Initially, the case was investigated by the local police and state crime branch, which concluded that Abhaya had committed suicide.

The CBI, which took over probe on March 29, 1993, filed three closure reports, saying that though it was a case of murder, the culprits could not be found.

However, on September 4, 2008, the Kerala High Court came down heavily on CBI over the handling of the case, saying the agency was “still a prisoner of those who wield political and bureaucratic power” and directed that the Delhi unit hand over the probe to its Kochi counterpart.

Following this, the CBI arrested two priests and a nun in 2008 –Fr Thomas Kottoor, Fr Jose Poothrikkayil and Sister Sephy on the charge of murder.

According to the prosecution, Kottoor and Poothrikkayil were allegedly having an illicit relationship with Sephy, also an inmate of the convent.

On the night of March 27, 1992, Abhaya allegedly saw Kottoor and Sephy in a compromising position, following which the three accused hacked her with an axe and threw her into the well, it had said in its charge sheet.

The accused were arrested in 2008 and released on bail by the Kerala High Court a year later.

As the two accused came out of the courtroom, Sister Sephy refused to talk to the media, while Fr Kottoor claimed he was innocent.

“I am innocent. I have done no wrong. God is with me. I will proceed as per God’s plans”, he said.

Abhaya’s parents Thomas and Leelamma died a few years ago waiting in vain for justice for their daughter.

Her brother said he was happy with the verdict.

During the course of the trial, which began in August 26 last year, many prosecution witnesses had turned hostile.

Adakka Raju, a petty thief who had gone to the convent that fateful day to steal something, had told the court he had seen the two priests at the convent in the wee hours.

He stuck by his words throughout the period of the trial.

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