Thiruvananthapuram: After finding Catholic priest Father Thomas M Kottoor and Sister Sephy guilty for Sister Abhaya's murder in Kottayam 28 years ago, a CBI Special Court on Wednesday pronounced the quantum of punishment in the controversial murder case and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
Judge K Sanilkumar also imposed fines of Rs 5 lakh each on the two convicts.
Quantum of Sentence
Kottoor and Sephy were charged under Section 302 (murder) and Section 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Along with the sentence, Kottoor will pay Rs 6.5 lakh and Sephy will pay Rs 5.5 lakh as a penalty. Kottur has to pay additional Rs 1 lakh as fine as he was also found guilty of trespassing the Pious Tenth Convent, where Sister Abhaya was found dead in a well on March 27, 1992.
Kottur was handed the second life imprisonment under Section 449 for barging into the convent.
Kottur was handed the life imprisonment and fine after conviction under Section 302 of the IPC. Sister Steffi was also convicted and fined under the same Section, apart from 7 years of rigorous imprisonment for tampering with evidence under Section 201.
After 28 years, the special CBI court on Tuesday pronounced the verdict in Sister Abhaya case and found Kottoor and Sephy guilty.
The CBI court found Fr. Thomas Kottoor guilty of murder (IPC 302), causing disappearance of evidence of the offence, or giving false information to screen offender (IPC 202) and house-trespass in order to commit an offence (IPC 449) while Sr. Sephy was found guilty of murder and causing disappearance of evidence.
The convicts will have to undergo both punishments concurrently.
'Judge as representative of God'
Earlier, Kottur's counsel argued that he was suffering from various ailments and required regular shots of insulin as he was a chronic diabetic.
Sister Steffi's counsel too argued that she was the sole support of her parents and that her pension money helped them survive. However, the court did not buy the defence arguments and handed them life imprisonments.
Joemon Puthanpurakal, Convener of Sister Abhaya Action Council, said: "The judge has acted as a representative of God; after 28 years, Sister Abhaya has got justice. It's God's will to give maximum punishment to the culprits, who committed the cold-blooded murder."
He said that their fight will continue as the convicts will certainly move the higher courts for reprieve. "I will fight till the last as these culprits will move the higher courts to get relief. I will go to any extent to see to it that this judgment is upheld."
Varghese P Thomas, a former CBI Deputy SP and the first Investigating Officer who had come out with the report that Sister Abhaya was murdered, told the media: "It's a clear judgment and both convicts given maximum punishment just short of death penalty. Justice has been upheld. It shows that truth can prevail even after so many years."
Thomas was forced to take voluntary retirement from service after his superior officers opposed his findings in the Sister Abhaya case.
Professor Thresiamma, now a retired Professor of BCM College at Kottayam and one of the witnesses, said: "Truth will always prevail. Even after so many years, the truth has come out...."
"I think it was my divine duty to be a witness in this case and its God's will that I am part of this."
Thresiamma was a teacher of Sister Abhaya, who was pursuing a pre-degree course at the BCM College at the time of her death. Thresiamma was one of the few witnesses who stood their ground amid intimidation and threats and offers.
Catholic nun's murder, 28 years ago
The 19-year-old Catholic nun's body was found in a well inside St Pius Convent in Kottayam district of Kerala on March 27, 1992, and the case first investigated by local police was shifted to the crime branch. Both of the probes concluded it as a suicide.
An action council was formed including activist Jomon Puthenpurackal who challenged the findings and the case was transferred to the CBI in 1993.
After CBI took over the case, in 2008, the CBI recorded the arrests of two Catholic priests, Fr Thomas Kottoor and Fr Jose Puthrukkayil, and the nun, Sr Sephy. But for lack of evidence, Puthrukkayil was discharged by the court in 2018.
Statements of Adakka Raju, a thief who had happened to be on the convent on the night to steal, gave a statement that he had seen the accused, proved crucial along with statements and findings of few police officers who probed the case initially. Almost eight witnesses, including crucial witnesses, had turned hostile in the case.
When the incident happened, Abhaya had been a pre-degree student in college run by the Catholic Church and was an inmate of Pious Xth Convent Hostel.
(With inputs from agencies)