On day three of the trial in the Sister Abhaya murder case, the prime witness has revealed that the Crime Branch of the Kerala police tried to sabotage the investigation during the initial phase. During the trial on Thursday at the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Special Court in Thiruvananthapuram, ‘Adakku’ Raju or Raju told the court that the Crime Branch officers had asked him to 'confess to the crime that he had never committed'.
On March 27, 1992, Catholic nun Abhaya was found dead in a well inside the compound of Pious Ten Convent in Kottayam. The CBI had taken over the investigation from Crime Branch in 1993 after the latter and the local police closed the case as one of suicide.
In his earlier statement, prime witness Raju had told the CBI that he saw two priests - Thomas M Kottoor (first accused) and Jose Poothrikkayil (second accused who was later discharged from the case) - climbing the stairway at the rear side of the convent. A senior advocate, who is associated with the case, told TNM that 'Adakka' Raju was a thief. "He had entered the convent on the day of the crime, a little after 4 am, to steal something when he saw the priests there. This, he admitted at the court on Thursday," the lawyer said.
According to Raju’s statement during the trial, when he was called in for questioning, the Crime Branch officials had asked him to admit to committing the crime, and that an amount of Rs 2 lakh will be sent to his family if he did so.
According to the New Indian Express, when the defence counsel pointed out Raju's criminal background, the latter said he was a delinquent child and had several criminal cases against him.
Considering how two witnesses have turned hostile in this 27-year-old case, Raju’s statement could prove crucial. Sanju Mathew was the other witness who said he saw the two priests at the convent during odd hours.
Local cops, Crime Branch destroyed evidence
It was sixteen years after the crime, that the CBI filed the chargesheet in the case. Thomas M Kottoor and Sister Stephy (third accused) were charged with murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence. It also said that the accused (Fr Thomas, Fr Jose and Sister Stephy) were in an illicit relationship and the victim found them in the act. Fearing consequences, Fr Thomas strangled her, while Sister Stephy beat her with an axe. The three then dumped her in a well when she was partially conscious.
Incidentally, all material evidence in the case, including the nun’s clothes at the time of the crime and her diary, were tampered with even before the CBI took over the investigation.
VV Augustine, who was the Assistant Sub-Inspector at the Kottayam West police station, was the first policeman to reach the crime spot on March 27, 1992. He conducted the inquest and filed the FIR (first information report). He was alleged to have tampered with the evidence. However, just a day after receiving CBI notice to appear before them, he was found dead.
Former Crime Branch Superintendent of Police (SP) KT Michael was also accused of destroying key evidence in the case.
The case was reopened after the Crime Branch investigation was termed a sham and the local police were accused of trying to aide the priests and the nun, the case was reopened.