A special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday sentenced Father Thomas Kotoor and Sister Sephy to life imprisonment for murdering Sister Abhaya, who was found dead in a well at Pious X Convent of the Knanaya Catholic order in Kottayam in March 1992.
The punishment for the duo in the longest-running investigation was pronounced by CBI special court judge K Sanal Kumar who also slapped a penalty of five lakh rupees on the two convicts.
The sentencing came a day after the two were held guilty by the court. Sister Abhaya, 21, was murdered and her body was dumped inside the well of a convent in Kottayam in 1992.
On Tuesday, Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy were held guilty of murder and destruction of the evidence. The priest, who was a Vicar and taught Sister Abhaya psychology at Kottayam’s BCM College, has also been convicted of house-trespassing. He was also Secretary to the then Bishop. He later rose to be Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese in Kottayam.
Sister Sephy stayed in the same hostel as Sister Abhaya and was de facto in-charge of the hostel.
The 28-year long sister Abhaya Case
Twenty-one-year-old sister Abhaya was found dead in the well of Pius X convent in Kottayam on March 27, 1992. The first accused priest, father Thomas Kottoor, and third accused sister Sephy faced trial.
The second accused, father Jose Poothrikkayil, was discharged in March 2018 by CBI court following his plea.
The state police had initially concluded the 19-year-old nun Sister Abhaya, a student of Kottayam’s BCM College, and a member of the Knanaya Catholic community died by suicide on March 27, 1992. This was as she went from her hostel room to the kitchen at around 4.15 AM.
The case was handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after protests led by activist Jomon Puthanpurakkal, whose campaign sought justice for the nun as the church stood by the accused. The Knanaya Catholic Archeparchy of Kottayam is an eparchy of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church for Knanaya Catholics.
In the first of its three reports in the case, the CBI said the nun’s death was a case of “homicidal suicide”. But the CBI court rejected the report and ordered a fresh investigation. In its second report, the agency said it could not establish beyond doubt whether it was a suicide or murder.
In its last report filed in 2008, the CBI said it was a case of murder and arrested Kottoor, Jose Poothrukayil, (another priest) and Sefi. Kottoor taught Sister Abhaya psychology at Kottayam’s BCM College and was also Secretary to the then Bishop. He later became the Chancellor of the Catholic Diocese in Kottayam.