Sister Abhaya murder case: A guilty verdict that was 28 years in the making

Father Thomas Kottoor, nun Sephy have been pronounced guilty in Sister Abhaya murder case by the CBI special court in Trivandrum


It has taken 28 years to reach this point. The CBI special court in Trivandrum has found both accused,  Father Thomas Kottoor, nun Sephy guilty in the Sister Abhaya murder case. According to a news report in The New Indian Express, and by other media, especially those with a focus on South India, the investigation headed by then CBI Kochi unit DSP Nandakumar Nair has concluded that Sr Abhaya’s was a “cold-blooded murder committed by two priests and a nun to cover-up their illicit relationship.”

Nineteen-year-old Sister Abhaya, a Knanaya Catholic nun,  was found dead in a well at the St. Pius X convent at Kottayam on March 27, 1992. On December 22, 2020, the accused Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy were found guilty by the CBI special court in Trivandrum. The verdict pronounced by Judge Sanal Kumar comes after 28 years. Father Kottoor has been remanded to Poojappura prison, while Sephy has been remanded to Attakkulangara women’s prison in Kerala stated TNIE.

Sr Abhaya was a member of the St Joseph’s Congregation, and a pre-degree student at BCM College in Kottayam when she was killed. Initially, the local police as well as the Crime Branch called it a death by suicide, and as reported, it took four CBI probes and a series of judicial interventions to refute that claim.

According to the news reports, the CBI probe found that: Abhaya had gone to the kitchen of the convent to fetch water, and saw Father Thomas Kottoor, Father Jose Poothrikkayil and Sister Sephy “in a compromising position.” The teenaged nun was allegedly bludgeoned to death with an axe and thrown into a well by Sephy, Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrikkayil. When it happened 29 years ago, the case had generated a lot of controversy and the Church authorities were also accused of “trying to shield the accused clergymen and the nun”. The Church, on its part, maintained that the CBI allegations and arrests of the priests and the nun were intended to damage its image, reported TNIE, adding that it tried to mobilise the faithful against the central agency’s ‘highhandedness’.

There were also political rumours that a “senior politician based out of central Kerala went out of the way to sabotage the probe”. According to TNIE, it was the Abhaya Case Action Council, a body floated by social activists, which stood up against the Church, questioned the suicide theory and pressed the government for a CBI probe. 

The investigation also revealed that the state police had “deliberately destroyed key evidence such as Abhaya’s robe and diary.” Even after the CBI took over the case, the action council remained vigilant to ensure that the probe does not get derailed, stated the news report recalled the history of “the lengthy legal procedures”. The CBI had chargesheeted the accused in 2009, but two years later, the accused moved a discharge petition in the court. This plea took nine years to be concluded, the court had discharged Poothrikkayil while rejecting the petitions of the other two, stated the news report. 

During the trial, eight of the 49 prosecution witnesses turned hostile. The court relied upon circumstantial evidence and the statement of a thief named Adakka Raja, who had happened to see the priests at the hostel, where he had sneaked into in the early hours of March 27, 1992, the day of the incident, recalled an Indian Express report..

The CBI court trial began in August 2019, the news report added that the accused had later requested to stall the proceedings citing “COVID scare,”, however, this plea was junked. 

Now Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy have been found guilty under Sections 302 (Murder) and Section 449 (House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death) of the Indian Penal Code. The quantum of punishment will be decided on Thursday December 24.


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