Catholic priest Thomas Kottoor and nun Sephy, who had been convicted of murdering Sister Abhaya, 19, whose body was discovered in a well at a convent in Kottayam on March 27, 1992, and sentenced to life in prison by a CBI court, received bail on Thursday from a division bench of the Kerala High Court.
The prisoners were granted bail by the Justices K. Vinod Chandran and C. Jayachandran bench with the requirement that they sign bonds for Rs. 5 lakh each and provide two credible sureties. The time that they are so released was supposed to be excluded from the computation of their prison term under Section 389(4) CrPC if their conviction and sentence were upheld or even amended.
Additionally, the convicts have been ordered not to commit any new crimes while they are on bail and to show up in front of the SHO officer every Saturday for the first six months, then every other Saturday after that.The court ordered them not to leave the state without first receiving permission from the judge.
After a protracted legal struggle, a CBI court in Thiruvananthapuram sentenced the pair to life in prison in December 2020. They were accused of violating Indian Penal Code Sections 201 (evidence destruction) and 302 (murder) (IPC).
Another alleged accused Father Jose Puthrikkayil’s motion for discharge had been granted by the trial court. Sister Sephy’s senior lawyer P Vijayabhanu argued that she was out on bond during the course of the investigation and trial and has been sentenced to life in prison as of December 22, 2020.
It was argued that she hadn’t abused the freedom the court had granted her, and there was no claim that she had attempted to tamper with the evidence or influence the witnesses while she was free on bond. The attorney stated that she would suffer substantial harm and irreparable impairment if the sentence was not suspended while her appeal was being heard.
Father Kottoor was represented by senior attorney B Raman Pillai, who argued that the trial court should not have sentenced Father Kottoor to life in jail because there was no evidence against him. It was claimed that the trial court’s judgments of guilt were completely at odds with the accusations brought against him and the other accused.
The counsel said that the CBI court made the crucial mistake of failing to recognise whether or not the case involved homicide.
The ASG argued that there was no justification for suspending the sentence and pushed for the prisoners’ prolonged detention. The CBI alleged that Abhaya was killed after discovering Kottoor, Puthrikkayil, and Sephy in a compromising position in the Pius X Convent hostel’s kitchen. It was also said that Sephy panicked and immediately hit Abhaya with an axe meant for chopping firewood.
On March 27, 1992, Sister Abhaya of St. Pious Xth Convent in Kottayam was discovered dead inside the well.The incident was initially deemed to be a suicide case by the local police and Kerala Police’s Crime Branch, the case was later turned over to the CBI, nevertheless, as a result of a significant public outcry.
The CBI finally made progress in the case in 2009 when it filed a charge sheet listing the appellants and one Father Jose Poothrukkayil as defendants. The appellants were found guilty of murdering Sister Abhaya in December 2020 by the Special CBI Court in Thiruvananthapuram, and as a result, they received life sentences under Section 302 of the IPC.
In accordance with Section 302, the offenders were also each given a fine of Rs. 5 lakh. Under Section 449 IPC, Kottoor was also given a second life term and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh (house-trespass in order to commit an offence punishable with death).
Eight of the 49 witnesses for the prosecution had changed their testimonies during the trial. However, the court relied on circumstantial evidence and a thief named Adakka Raja’s testimony. Raja claimed that on March 27, 1992, the day of the incident, he sneaked into the hostel and saw the priests.
Senior Advocate P Vijayabhanu and Senior Advocate B Raman Pillai respectively represented Father Kottoor and Sister Sephy.
Case Title: Thomas Kottoor v Central Bureau of Investigation.