Sister Abhaya Murder: Kerala priest, nun get life imprisonment

A special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday sentenced Father Thomas Kotoor and Sister Sephy to life imprisonment for murdering Sister Abhaya, who was found dead in a well at Pious X Convent of the Knanaya Catholic order in Kottayam in March 1992.

Both were sentenced under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code. Main accused Thomas Kotoor will have to undergo double life-term for trespassing into the convent (Section 449) but he can undergo both sentences concurrently, the court said.

Besides this, the two convicts will have to undergo seven-year jail for destroying evidence (Section 201) and each will have to pay Rs five lakh fine. They were held guilty by the court on Tuesday.

Earlier, main accused Thomas Kotoor informed the court that he was undergoing treatment for cancer and pleaded for lesser punishment. Sister Sephy also sought commutation but the prosecution opposed their contention saying they deserved no sympathy.

The murder of 19-year-old Sister Abhaya was initially dismissed as a suicide by the state police and crime branch, but the CBI later concluded that it was murder. In 2009, the CBI charge-sheeted Kottoor and Sefi. But the case witnessed many twists and turns and a flurry of petitions which delayed the trial inordinately.

According to the CBI charge-sheet, on the day of her death, Abhaya got up early to study and went to the kitchen to wash her face. The charge-sheet surmised that she witnessed some sexual activity involving the two priests and nun and was killed because they feared she may disclose what she had witnessed.

She was first attacked with an axe and later dumped in the well, the CBI claimed. Although the case created a sensation in Kerala, the church stood by the accused, saying the accused were innocent.

“I am the happiest man today. Both got what they deserved. It is time for the church to do an introspection whether they should shield people like them or not,” 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 later opted for voluntary retirement after he allegedly came under pressure to write off the death as a suicide, expressed his satisfaction at the verdict.

Although most witnesses had turned hostile during the trial, the court said a few prosecution witnesses had been convincing.

Interestingly one of the main witnesses in the case was a small-time robber, Raju. He was on the premises of the convent for stealing areca nuts when the incident took place. He reportedly told CBI officers that he saw two priests and a nun at the convent around the time of Abhaya’s death. He later said he was promised many things to own up to the crime and change his statement but he stuck to his testimony.

Many movies were made based on the theme of the sensational case. The poor parents of Abhaya who valiantly fought for justice died during the long years of legal battle.

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