After 28 years and multiple re-investigations, a special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday held a priest and a nun guilty for the murder of a nun in Kerala, reported Bar and Bench. Sister Abhaya was found dead in a well in the St Pius X Convent in Kottayam on March 27, 1992, at the age of 18.
Special CBI Judge K Sanal Kumar will hear convicts Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sefi on Wednesday and pronounce the sentence, according to Live Law. As per the CBI, the accused murdered the nun after she happened to witness intimate exchanges between them.
The state police initially concluded in 1993 that the nun had died by suicide. The matter was then handed over to the CBI after an activist, Jomon Puthenpurackal, took it to court.
The CBI, after taking over the case from the local police in 1993, filed three closure reports at different points of time. In 1996, the agency filed a report stating it could not conclude whether it was a homicide or suicide. The court, however, rejected the submission and ordered a re-investigation. A year later, the central agency concluded that the case was indeed a homicide, but there was no evidence to try the case. This was again rejected by the court and a third round of CBI probe began.
In 2005, yet another report was filed by the CBI after an investigation by another team ruled out involvement of other persons in Sister Abhaya’s death. On November 1, 2008, the High Court of Kerala directed the Kochi Unit of the central agency to take over the investigation.
The CBI made its first arrests in the case ten years after the alleged murder. Catholic priests Thomas Kottoor, Father Jose Poothrukayil, and Sister Sefi were charged with the nun’s murder, destruction of evidence, and criminal conspiracy in 2008. They were granted bail by the Kerala High Court in 2009.
The charge sheet filed by the central agency in July 2009 stated that Sister Abhaya had accidentally intruded upon Sister Sephy and the two priests in a “compromising position”. It said that upon being discovered, Sister Sephy panicked and – “on the spur of the moment” – she hit Sister Abhaya with an axe. After that, the three accused allegedly dumped Abhaya’s body into the well.
Father Poothrukayil was exonerated last year after no evidence was found against him. But the CBI Court had rejected the discharge pleas of Kottoor and Sister Sephy, observing that there were sufficient grounds for prima facie presuming that the two had committed offences punishable under Indian Penal Code. The dismissal of their discharge petitions was approved by the High Court and the Supreme Court.
Former officer of the Kerala police special branch KT Michael, who was accused of destruction of evidence, was also discharged by the court last year. Nine prosecution witnesses in the case had turned hostile during the trial, which had started in August 2019.
In October, the Kerala High Court had directed investigators to expedite the trial by conducting daily hearings. A single bench of Justice VG Arun had observed that it was “disheartening to note that criminal proceedings pertaining to a crime of 1992 is yet to attain finality, whether it be by reason of providence or design”. The court had then allowed cross-examination of witnesses through video conferencing considering the coronavirus pandemic.