The Special Judge (SPE/CBI), Thiruvananthapuram has passed a verdict in the infamous #SisterAbhaya #Murder case, namely, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), ACB, Cochin vs Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy. The Special #CBI Court passed a Judgment dated 23-12-2020 and held Father Thomas Kottoor (the Accused 1) and Sister Sephy (the Accused 3) guilty of committing murder of Sister Abhaya (the Deceased) and other offences under the Indian Penal Code 1860 (#IPC), 28 long years after the incident happened.
In this case, the Deceased, aged 21 years, was a Nun and an inmate of St. Pius X Convent Hostel, Kottayam, Kerala. On 27-03-1992 morning, she was found dead inside the Convent, where she was staying with other nuns and students and her body was recovered from a well (Incident).
Police investigation- On the same day, a First Information Statement (FIS) was lodged with the Police under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 (CrPC) for unnatural death.
Crime Branch investigation (around 1 year)- Thereafter, the investigation was transferred to the Crime Branch, Kottayam around 07-04-1992. Upon investigation, the Crime Branch concluded around 30-01-1993 that it was a case of suicidal death by drowning.
CBI First Investigation (around 2 years)- But upon request by the family members of the Deceased and on public demand, the case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Delhi on 29-03-1993. Upon conducting investigation for around 2 years, the CBI reported on 05-12-1996 that they could not confirm if the death was suicidal or homicidal. But the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ernakulam (CJM) directed the CBI to conduct further investigation.
CBI Second Investigation (around 2+ years)- Upon further investigation, the CBI, Delhi reported around 12-07-1999 that it was a case of homicidal death, but that they could not identify the accused. But the CJM directed the CBI to reopen the investigation around 23-06-2000.
CBI Third Investigation (around 5 years) – Thereafter, the investigation was transferred to CBI, Cochin, which submitted its Report around 25-08-2005 and requested the CJM to close the matter as an untraced one. But the CJM refused to allow the said request vide Order dated 21-08-2006.
CBI Fourth Investigation (around 5 years) – Thereafter, CBI Cochin conducted further investigation and laid down a Final Report dated 17-07-2009, thereby, arraying three persons as accused, namely, Accused 1, who was a Priest and Lecturer of Psychology at BCM College, Kottayam; Father Jose Poothrikkayil (Accused 2), also a Priest and Lecturer at BCM College, Kottayam; and Accused 3, who was a nun residing at St. Pius X Convent Hostel along with the Deceased and other nuns. All three Accused were charge-sheeted.
Later, the Accused 2 was discharged by the Court and the trial began against Accused 1 and 3 before the Special CBI Court on 05-08-2019.
Prosecution – It has been alleged by the Prosecution that the Deceased had seen the Accused 1 in a compromising position with the Accused 3 in the latter’s Hostel room on 27-03-1992 around 4.15 AM. Therefore, in order to silence her, the Accused had hit on the back of the Deceased’s head with an axe kept in the kitchen. Thereafter, when the Deceased fell unconscious, the Accused in their attempt to dispose of her body and cause disappearance of the evidence, they carried her body to the terrace and threw her in the well.
The Special CBI Court made the following observations in this case:
1- That as per the testimony of the Autopsy Doctor, injury on the head of the Deceased was caused by a hard and blunt object. Such injury cannot be caused during movement inside water. As the body had travelled to a certain depth through the water, which establishes that there was no object to block its movement through the water and no object for the body to strike against through its movement towards the surface of the well. In fact, there is possibility of an assault on the body of the Deceased prior to its fall into the water.
2- That as per the medical evidence and testimonies of the Doctors in this case, it is established that the death of the Deceased was due to combination of head injury and drowning.
3- That Sister Abhaya was a pious and honest person, who devoted herself passionately to studies and academics. On the night of the Incident as well, she was engaged in combined study with her inmate around 4 AM. Therefore, it cannot be a case of suicidal death, as otherwise, a person bent on ending her life, would not worry about her academic prospects and deny herself sleep for the sake of improving her examination performance. Hence, the death of Sister Abhaya was homicidal.
4- Further, the following circumstantial evidence relied upon by the Prosecution establishes the charges against the Accused 1 and 3:
i) Strange disturbance in the kitchen area of the Hostel on 27-03-1992 morning, i.e. the day of the Incident. For instance, an axe lying on the kitchen floor, the Deceased’s veil, slipper and water bottle scattered in the kitchen, etc.
ii) The presence of Accused 1 in the Convent Hostel on 26-03-1992 night. This has been corroborated with the oral testimony of a thief and supporting witnesses. The thief had sneaked into the Hostel to commit thief on 26-03-1992 night and he saw Accused 1 approaching the staircase of the Hostel. The Court observed that his statement has been the same throughout the investigations, examinations and cross-examinations. The evidence of a witness who had got a criminal background is to be viewed with caution. But if such evidence gets sufficient corroboration with the evidence of other witnesses, there is nothing wrong in accepting such evidence.
iii) The presumption of innocence of Accused 3 is ruled out, as it has been established through medical evidence and her testimony that she was involved in sexual activities in the past. Though she did not admit to sexual activity with Accused 1, but the relevant facts about her sexual antecedents are connected to the allegations made in the present case. The basic test of relevancy is the logical probativeness of one to the other.
Hence, taking into consideration, the nature of the head injury suffered by Sister Abhaya that is sufficient to cause her death and the direct (not hearsay) oral evidence of the witnesses under Section 60 of the Evidence Act 1872, it is established that she was attacked by the Accused with the intention to kill.
Thus, the Accused 1 and 3 have been held guilty under the following offences and have been awarded the punishment accordingly. The said sentences of A1 and A3 would run concurrently:
1) Accused 1 and 3 have been punished with life imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5,00,000/- has been imposed under Section 302 (Punishment for murder) r/w Section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of IPC;
2) Accused 1 and 3 have been punished with rigorous imprisonment for seven years and a fine of Rs. 50,000/- has been imposed under Section 201 (Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information, to screen offender) r/w Section 34 of IPC;
3) Accused 1 has been punished with life imprisonment and a fine of Rs.1,00,000/- has been imposed under Section 449 (House-trespass in order to commit offence punishable with death) of IPC.
Senior Legal Associate
The Indian Lawyer