Sister Abhaya murder case: Suicide to murder verdict after 28 years

A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday convicted a priest and a nun for the murder of another nun 28 years ago who they feared would expose their illicit relationship.
Highlighting the latest in a series of sex scandals to hit the Roman Catholic church in Kerala, prosecutors said they would seek a tough sentence for Father Thomas Kottoor, 69, and Sister Sephy, 55.
The murder only came to light after federal investigators were called in because of doubts over local police claims that Sister Abhaya, a member of the Pious X Convent in Kottayam, had committed suicide. The 18-year-old nun’s body was found in a well in the convent in 1992.
Prosecutors told the CBI court that the nun was killed after she found Sephy with Kottoor and another priest in a “compromising position” in a convent kitchen. Fearing they would be given away, the two defendants killed Sister Abhaya with an axe and threw her body into the well.
The court found Kottoor and Sephy guilty of murder. Charges against another priest, Jose Poothrikkayil, were dismissed in 2018 for lack of evidence.
“God is my court and I am innocent. Let the will of God prevail,” Kottoor told journalists as he was led away by the police to a hospital for a mandatory medical check-up after his conviction.
Asked if he would appeal against his conviction, he said: “I am not the one to decide.”
Sephy was seen praying when the verdict was announced. She clutched her cross but did not say a word. After their check-ups, the convicts were taken to different jails in Thiruvananthapuram.
Tuesday’s verdict was a “victory” for petty thief Adakka Raju, who had identified Kottoor as one of the murderers.
Raju had broken into the compound of Pius X Convent to steal copper plates in the wee hours of March 27, 1992, when he spotted two priests climbing the stairway at the rear of the convent. He told the local police investigating officer that Kottoor was one of them.
Later, there were reportedly unsuccessful attempts to buy off Raju with huge amounts of money and local police officers brutally tortured him to try and get him to confess to the crime.
Raju, however, stuck to his stance, repeating in court what he had told the investigating officer. “My child got justice,” he said on Tuesday. “I yearned for justice to be served to her (Abhaya). She got it now, and I am extremely happy. I’ll drink in joy today.”
Raju said that though he was offered millions of rupees to change his statement, he did not take a single rupee. He still lives in a small plot in a colony.
The Catholic church in Kerala has faced a number of scandals in recent years, including allegations of rape, abuse of nuns and priests fathering children.
The church has been accused of trying to influence cases.
Three enquiries into Sister Abhaya’s death that said murder could not be proved or the killers could not be identified were rejected by courts. Kottoor and Sephy were finally arrested only in 2008.
“Justice was delayed but it has been done,” a CBI prosecutor told AFP. “We are going to press for a tough sentence because it is the rarest of rare cases.”
The judgment took 28 years to be delivered.
Mr Varghese P. Thomas, who quit the CBI while he had 10 years of service, was the first officer who found that Abhaya was murdered.
He burst into tears as he told the media on Tuesday that finally the truth has come out.
Mr Thomas was under pressure from his senior officer to change his finding from murder to suicide. He refused to do so and quit the CBI in disgust.
The case had dragged on with both the Kerala Police Crime Branch and the CBI initially dismissing it as a suicide.
However, public activist Joemon Puthenpurackal formed an action council and pursued the case.
The turnaround in the case came when Mr Puthenpurackal managed to get it reopened, following which the 13th batch of CBI officials cracked the case on Nov 19, 2008.
Mr Puthenpurackal said that Tuesday’s verdict is a victory for the people of Kerala, the media and the judiciary.
“This CBI court has delivered real justice and the crucial witness – Raju – stood firm despite pressure from vested interests,” he said.
“He is the happiest person as justice has been delivered. After that incident, he stopped stealing and started work as a daily labourer.
“God has worked in this case through Raju.
I waited for this judgment and, even if I die today, I will die as the happiest person.”
AFP, Indo-Asian News Service

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