In a major set back to the accused in the two decades old Sister Abhaya murder case, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday said that Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy, the first and third accused in the case will have to undergo trial.
A bench headed by Justice Sunil Thomas gave the order after considering the discharge plea filed by both the accused. In March 2018, the accused had filed a discharge petition in CBI Special Court saying that evidence against them was fabricated. But the CBI court had then dismissed the discharge plea. It was following this that the two accused had challenged it in the High Court.
Sister Abhaya, was a Knanaya Catholic nun of the St Pius Tenth Convent in Kottayam district. She was found dead on March 27,1992 at a well in the convent. Initial investigation by the crime branch had closed the case stating that it was suicide. But after a year, CBI reopened the case asserting suspicion on crime branch probe. According to CBI reports, witness had stated that two priests- Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothirikal (the second accused) had an affair with Sister Sephy. Sister Abhaya had allegedly found Kottoor and Sephy in a compromising position which lead to the three accused hacking her to death and disposing her dead body in a well.
The High Court on Tuesday also dismissed the name of former crime branch SP, KT Michael, from the list of accused in the case. KT Michael, who was in charge of the investigation in the initial phase of the case, had closed the case stating that Sister Abhaya had committed suicide. He was included in the list of accused by CBI court in January 2018 alleging he had destroyed key evidence in the case. Michael was added as the fourth accused in the case.
HC pointed out that it was not necessary to name KT Micheal in the list of accused at present. If necessary, action can be taken against him over the course of trial, the court said.
The High Court also upheld the decision of CBI Special Court in removing the name of Father Jose Poothrikkayil from the list of accused in the case. The Special Court had acquitted Father Poothrikkayil in March 2018 stating that there was no evidence or witness to prove that he was present at the convent on the night when murder took place.
It was after 16 years of Sister Abhaya’s death, in 2008, that CBI made arrests as part of the probe. Father Thomas Kottoor and Father Jose Poothrikkayil and Sister Sephy, belonging to Knanaya community of the Roman Catholic Congregation, were arrested but were released on bail after some months. CBI then submitted charge sheet in the case in 2009.
Strange as this may sound, the two accused can now approach the Supreme Court and delay the trial further.