Sister Abhaya murder: Life imprisonment for Father Kottoor and Sister Sephy

The two accused - Sr Sephy and Father Kottoor were found guilty under Sections 302 (Murder) and Section 449 (House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death) of the Indian Penal Code.
Father Kottoor
Father Kottoor

Father Thomas Kottoor (73) and Sister Sephy (57)- two people found guilty of killing Kerala nun Sister Abhaya in 1992 have been sentenced to life imprisonment. A CBI court in Thiruvananthapuram handed the sentence to Sr Abhaya’s killers in a case that took decades to even reach trial and witnessed a strong coterie – aided by powerful people in the church – who tried to change its course. Father Kottoor has been given double life imprisonment, under two sections.

The prosecution asked judge Sanal Kumar to give maximum punishment to the two convicted of killing the 21-year-old nun and dumping her in a well in 1992. The prosecution told the judge that Kottoor did not live in the convent and the fact that he entered the place exposed his criminal intentions and it was a case of trespass.

Meanwhile, Kottoor’s counsel pleaded that since he is aged and a cancer patient, and therefore he should be given minimum punishment. Kottoor told the judge that he was also a diabetic patient who needed insulin daily. Sister Sephy pleaded to the judge that she was the sole breadwinner for her family. Though both the convicts made their requests to the judge directly, the judge handed life imprisonment to the duo and have asked them to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh each.

The two accused have been found guilty despite the fact that several witnesses turned hostile during trial. In fact, key witnesses turning hostile was one of the main challenges faced by the prosecution during the trial, which commenced in August 2019. 

Sr Sephy and Father Kottoor were found guilty under sections 302 (Murder) and section 449 (House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death) of the Indian Penal Code. They were also found guilty under section 201 for destroying evidence.

The infamous case dates back to 1992, when Abhaya was found dead in the well of the Pius X Convent in Kottayam. According to the CBI investigation’s findings, the nun was killed by two priests Thomas Kottoor and Jose Poothrikkayil and Sister Sephy, nun in her convent. However, Jose Poothrikkayil was later dismissed of all charges by the court, due to a lack of evidence. The CBI’s probe found that Sr Abhaya found the priests and Sephy in a compromising position in the convent kitchen and they killed her fearing she would speak out about this.

The CBI took over the case in 1993 and 13 batches of officers investigated the case. The CBI submitted three reports in the case. While the first closed the case as one of the suicie, the other two reports stated that it was homicide, but the investigations did not throw up sufficient evidence to nab the perpetrators. All three reports were rejected by the court which sought for a fresh probe. 

Fifteen years after the CBI began their probe, the accused in the case were finally arrested in 2008. When the trial began in August 2019, eight witnesses turned hostile. 

The strongest evidence in the case was the statements given by the witnesses on the mess they saw in the kitchen, after Abhaya’s body was found in the well. Witnesses testified that Abhaya’s footwear, a water bottle and her veil were lying in the kitchen. The door of the refrigerator too was found open. A few other misplaced objects found in the room indicated a struggle in the kitchen when the victim went to drink water on March 27, 1992.

Another crucial witness was a former thief named ‘Adakka’ Raju who had entered the convent that day to rob. He identified the accused. In Raju’s statement to the CBI, he said 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.

Sister Abhaya was a second-year pre-degree student at BCM College for Women in Kottayam. Father Thomas Kottoor, was Sister Abhaya’s teacher, who taught psychology at the college and Sister Sephy was an inmate at the convent. 


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