A CBI court here has acquitted one of the priests accused in the murder of Sister Abhaya while ordering a nun and another priest to face trial in the 26-year-old case.
Father Jose Poothrukayil was acquitted while the court refused to discharge the case against co-accused Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sefi.
Sister Abhaya, a plus-two student, was found dead in a well on the premises of the Pius X Convent in Kottayam in 1992. The nun’s death was initially described as a case of suicide by crime branch, but the CBI later concluded that it was a murder.
On November 19, 2008, the CBI arrested the three accused, including Fr Poothrukkayil — a former Malayalam professor at a Kottayam college where Abhaya studied; Fr Kottor, the chancellor of the Knanaya Catholic Diocese of Kottayam and Fr Seffi, a resident of the convent where the incident took place.
On January 1, 2009, the three accused got bail. All the three accused had moved the court with discharge petitions.
Hearing their pleas, the court ruled that there was no evidence against Father Jose and removed him from the accused list, but the other two will have to face the trial.
The CBI had charged all three with murder, destruction of evidences and other offences.
“It is god’s grace that my innocence is proved after 26 years,” said Father Poothrukkayil after the verdict.
On March 28, the court will read out the chargesheet in the case to the accused and the trial is expected to start soon.
Sister Abhaya, a Knanaya Catholic nun, was found dead on March 27, 1992 in the Pius Tenth Convent in Kottayam. Her body was found in a well in the convent. The local police and crime branch closed the case back then, calling it a suicide.
But a year later, in 1993, the case was reopened and taken up by the CBI, after the crime branch investigation was called a sham and the police accused of trying to aid the killers.
The investigation was led by the then DySp Varghese P Thomas. It was Varghese who declared the Abhaya case a murder, before he resigned on December 31, 2003.
In 2008, 16 years after Abhaya’s death, the CBI made three arrests as part of its investigation. Two priests (Father Thomas Kottoor and Father Jose Poothrikkayil) and a nun (Sister Sephy) were arrested, but released on bail a few months later. In 2009, the CBI submitted the charge sheet in the case, claiming that strong evidence was available against the two priests and the nun.
CBI reports submitted to the special court in Thiruvananthapuram stated that according to a witness, Prof Thressyamma, the two priests had illicit relations with the nun. The CBI also claimed in its reports that the two priests and the nun had a physical relationship, and that Sister Abhaya found them in a compromising position inside the hostel and this was the motive for the murder.
On January 22, the CBI court added a former crime branch SP, KT Michael, in the list of accused for allegedly destroying key evidence in the case. Michael, who was in charge of the preliminary investigation in the death of Sister Abhaya, had closed the case saying she had committed suicide.
(With significant input from NewsMinute and the Hindustan Times)