Sister Abhaya case: CBI court announces verdict, convicts 2 of murder

What is Abhaya Case?

A CBI court gave its verdict on the Sister Abhaya murder case, 28 years after the case came to light.

A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Tuesday pronounced its verdict in Sr Abhaya murder case. Both accused Sister Sephy and Father Thomas Kottoor were convicted by the CBI court. The trial of the two accused Fr Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy ended on December 10.

Another accused in the case, Father Jose Poothrikkayil, was discharged by the CBI Court last year. The judgment was announced by CBI judge K Sanal Kumar. The quantum of punishment will be announced on Wednesday.

The preliminary probe conducted by local cops lasted for 17 days

The 19-year-old sister was found dead inside the well of St Pius X Convent, Kottayam on March 27, 1992. The victim and accused belong to the Knanaya Catholic Church, headquartered in Kottayam. At the time of her death, Abhaya had been a pre-degree student in college run by the Catholic Church. She had been an inmate of Pious Xth Convent Hostel, which had 123 inmates, including 20 nuns, in 1992 when the incident happened.

What is Abhaya Case?

The crux of the CBI case is that Sephy had a clandestine affair with two priests, both teaching in a college in Kottayam. On the day of the incident, Abhaya had been preparing for an exam. Her colleague Sister Shirly woke her up at 4 am that morning. She then went to the kitchen to take cold water from the fridge to wash her face to keep her awake. When Abhaya entered the kitchen, she allegedly saw the two priests, Kottoor and Puthrikkayl, and the nun in a compromising position. Fearing she would disclose the incident, the first accused, Kottoor allegedly strangulated her while the third accused, Sephy, allegedly beat her with an axe. Together, they dumped her body in a well within the compound.

The deceased woman's parents were identified as Ayikkarakunnel Thomas and Leelamma. During the trial that lasted for around 28 years, as many as 177 witnesses died or turned hostile.

The initial investigation of the case done by the local cops lasted for 17 days. The probe was then handed over to the crime branch. The investigation conducted by the crime branch lasted for 9 months and the final report was submitted on January 30, 1993. The report concluded that Sr Abhaya died of suicide.

On March 29, 1993, the CBI took over the case after a recommendation of the CBI. The probe conducted by the CBI revealed that it was a case of homicide. Three persons were named in the charge sheet filed by the CBI. They were identified as Fr Thomas Kottoor, Fr Jose Poorthrukayil and Sr Sephy, cites Timesnownews.

The arrest of the accused

What is Abhaya Case?

In early November 2008, the HC handed over the case to the state unit of CBI, and gave a three-month period to complete the probe. The new team, led by Dy SP Nandakumaran Nair, had recorded the statement of Sanju P Mathew, who had been residing next to the convent when Abhaya died. Sanju, in his statement as per Section 164 of CrPC, said he had seen Kottoor in the convent hostel campus on the night of March 26, 1992, a day before Abhaya was found dead. Based on this statement, the CBI on November 19, 2008, arrested Kottoor, Puthrikkayl and Sephy.

Chargesheet: On July 17, 2009, the CBI submitted its chargesheet against the arrested persons. The special court began the trial last year.

Narco analysis, turning point in probe: On July 6, 2007, the court ordered the CBI to subject the suspects to narco-analysis tests. On August 3, 2007, the agency conducted the tests in Bengaluru. But the CBI could not proceed as no hard evidence was left to substantiate the results of the test.

In August 2008, the CBI informed the HC that no new facts had emerged from the narco-analysis test conducted on the two priests and nun, but it would not leave any stone unturned to unravel the mystery surrounding Abhaya’s death and bring the culprits to book. Even though the CBI was convinced that Abhaya had been murdered, it was unable to trace the assailants. The copy of the original narco-analysis CD was given to the court.

Narco CDs found tampered with: A team of technical experts in the Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT), Thiruvananthapuram had found that master tapes of the narco-analysis tests, conducted on the three persons before their arrest, had been tampered with. The 32-minute, 50-second CD of the narco-analysis performed on Kottoor was edited in 30 places. The CD of Puthrukkaayil (40-minute, 55-second) was edited in 19 places, while the 18-minute, 42-second CD of Sister Sephy was edited at 23 places. C-DIT was asked to look into the narco CDs at the behest of CJM court in Kochi, which has been monitoring the probe, according to

Narco-analysis not used as evidence: In December last year, the HC ruled that results of narco-analysis and brain mapping process done on the accused cannot be used as evidence. The court held that the results of such scientific tests, even if carried out with the consent of the accused, can be used only for the purposes of proving discovery of fact in accordance with Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Hence, the trial court did not examine doctors N Krishnaveni and Pravin Parvathappa, of CFSL, Bengaluru, who had conducted the narco-analysis tests. The court noted that the petitioners were yet to be accused at the time of the tests.

Circumstantial evidence relied upon by CBI: The most crucial evidence relied upon by the CBI had been the disturbance in the kitchen. The water bottle had fallen down near the fridge with dripping water, the veil was found underneath the exit door, which was found locked from the outside — the latches inside were unlatched — an axe and a basket had fallen down, two slippers of Abhaya were found at different places in the kitchen, and altogether, the area exhibited an appearance of having had a tussle inside. But, there was no blood on the scene.
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