Shocking murder of Sister Abhaya: After three decades, the case got its final verdict! What's the crime?

The CBI Court in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala has on Wednesday pronounced its final verdict on the case of the shocking murder of nun Abhaya in 1992. The judicial body has brought the case to an end after 28 years by dictating life imprisonment to the guilty - Father Thomas Kottoor (73) and Sister Sephy (57). The duo was convicted and awarded with a life sentence after they were proven guilty of killing nun Abhaya.  

After the episodes of marathon hearings and trial, the CBI court had penned its final verdict in the midst of the nationwide attention, as the murder and the developments that unfolded aftermath the crime had shocked the country. The CBI court headed by Justice Sanal Kumar had pronounced the verdict in the case that took two decades to even reach trial. Both Kottoor and Sephy were found guilty under sections 302- murder, 449- house-trespass in order to commit the offence punishable, 201- destroying evidence under the Indian Penal Code.

According to reports, during the final hearing, the prosecution has asked Justice Sanal Kumar to slap a maximum punishment on the two guilty. The prosecution said to the CBI court that Father Kottoor wasn't living in the convent where Abhaya was residing and he entered the convent with criminal intentions and it warrants a charge of trespass. However, Kottoor's counsel had pleaded the CBI court to give a minimum punishment by considering his age and his cancer diagnosis. 

Father Kottoor told the judge that he was a diabetic patient who needed insulin while Sister Sephy had pleaded to the judge for the minimum imprisonment. However, the CBI court had dismissed their appeals and gave life imprisonment to both the guilty and had asked them to pay Rs 5 lakh fine each. The track of the trials was filled with dents and challenges as the case had witnessed several witnesses turned hostile to the prosecution during the trial, pushing the prosecution to face more troubles. 

After nearly three decades of crime and several challenges, the prosecution had handed over life imprisonment to the guilty, who had mulled to worked to change the course of the trial with the backing of the powerful people in Church. In 1992, the 21-year-old Abhaya was found dead in the well at the Pius X Convent in Kottayam, Kerala. The CBI took over the case in 1993 and 13 batches of officers had investigated the case. 

As per the CBI findings, sister Abhaya was killed by two priests -Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrikkayil, and sister Sephy. Later, Poothrikkayil was dismissed from the charges due to a lack of evidence. While Sephy was staying at the convent, Sister Abhaya was a second-year student at the BGM College for Women in Kottayam and Kottoor was teaching psychology to Abhaya at the college. 

The CBI had revealed that Abhaya found the priests and Sephy had a close relationship in the convent kitchen on March 27, 1992, while she went to the kitchen from her hostel room at 4.15 am and after knowing that  Abhaya had seen them, the accused hit Abhaya with a blunt object and threw her body into the well to conceal the crime after they feared that she would expose them in public. The CBI had submitted three reports in the case and while it said it was a suicide in its first report, the other two reports revealed it was a homicide. However, due to the lack of clear evidence, all three reports were rejected by the court and it directed the CBI to initiate a fresh probe. 

The CBI had begun their probe 15 years later and the accused in connection to the case were finally arrested in 2008. The probing team had started the trail in August 2019 only to witness a fresh challenge where eight witnesses had turned hostile against the prosecution. According to reports, the strongest evidence in the case was the confessions by some witnesses in the kitchen and they divulged what happened and testified that Abhaya's footwear, a water bottle, and her veil were in the kitchen. 

Along with them, the prosecution got a breakthrough after thief Adakka Raju had confessed and identified the accused. Raju was a former thief and he came to the convent on the day of murder for a robbery during which he had seen two priests - Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrikkayil were at the convent. While the court had dismissed the charges against Poothrikkayil due to lack of evidence in 2018, Kottoor and sister Sephy who was an inmate at the convent were proven guilty of murdering Sister Abhaya and they have now been given a sentence of life imprisonment. 

The final verdict from the CBI court has come a day after they were proven guilty and along with a life sentence for murder, the convicts were also been awarded with the seven years of prison sentence for destroying and tampering the evidence. Following the judgment, Sister Abhaya's brother Biju Thomas said that he was happy with the verdict.