Sister Abhaya’s murder: Kerala priest and nun sentenced to life imprisonment
A special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sentenced Father Thomas Kotoor and Sister Sephy to life imprisonment for murdering Sister Abhaya, who was found dead in a well in the Pious X convent of the Knanaya Catholic order. in Kottayam in March 1992..
Both were convicted under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code. Lead defendant Thomas Kotoor will face a double life sentence for trespassing into the convent (Section 449), but can serve both sentences at the same time, the court said.
In addition to this, the two convicts will have to spend seven years in jail for destroying evidence (Section 201) and each will have to pay a fine of five lakh rupees. They were found guilty by the court on Tuesday.
Earlier, the main defendant, Thomas Kotoor, informed the court that he was receiving treatment for cancer and asked for a lesser punishment. Sister Sephy also sought commutation, but the prosecution objected to her argument saying they did not deserve any sympathy.
The murder of 19-year-old Sister Abhaya was initially ruled out as a suicide by the state police and the criminal branch, but the CBI later concluded that it was a murder. In 2009, the CBI indicted Kottoor and Sefi. But the case saw many twists and turns and an avalanche of petitions that unduly delayed the trial.
According to the CBI charge sheet, on the day of his death, Abhaya got up early to study and went to the kitchen to wash his face. The charge sheet assumed that she witnessed some sexual activity involving the two priests and the nun and was killed because they feared she might reveal what she had witnessed.
She was first attacked with an ax and then thrown into the well, the CBI claimed. Although the case caused a sensation in Kerala, the church supported the defendant and said the defendants were innocent.
“I am the happiest man today. They both got what they deserved. It is time for the church to introspect whether or not they should protect people like them, ”said activist Jomon Puthanpurackkal, who took up the case and fought a long legal battle.
Former CBI Deputy Superintendent of Police Verghese P Thomas, who first investigated the case and then opted for voluntary retirement after he was allegedly pressured to overturn the death as a suicide, expressed his satisfaction with the verdict.
Although most of the witnesses had turned hostile during the trial, the court said that some prosecution witnesses had been convincing.
Interestingly, one of the main witnesses in the case was a petty thief, Raju. He was on the convent premises for stealing areca nuts when the incident occurred. He reportedly told CBI officers that he saw two priests and a nun at the convent at the time of Abhaya’s death. He later said that he was promised many things to acknowledge the crime and change his statement, but he stuck to his testimony.
Many films were made based on the theme of the sensational case. Abhaya’s poor parents who fought valiantly for justice died during the long years of legal battle.