The Sister Abhaya murder case, one of the longest-running murder investigation in Kerala, has now taken a twist after a key witness testified before a special court that he had seen two men including Father Thomas Kottoor in the St Pius X convent compound in Kottayam on the day when the Sister Abhaya was found murdered in the well of the convent.
According to the reports, Adakka Raju gave a statement in the CBI court identifying Christian priest Father Thomas Kottoor, the first accused in the case. Raju said that the priest was seen in the St Pius X convent in the wee hours of March 27, 1992, the day Sister Abhaya was alleged to be murdered.
Earlier, he had given a statement to the CBI and the magistrate that he saw the two Christian priests in the convent on the night he had gone there to steal copper plates from the terrace.
“I had been on the terrace for stealing copper components of the lightning conductor installed atop the convent building. I had committed theft on two days and was there on the third day looking for the remaining copper components. I saw two men walking up the stairs with a torch and they were seen surveying the surroundings. One of them was a tall man and the other one was Fr Thomas Kottoor, who is in this court. As they were there, I abandoned my plan and left the place,” Raju told the CBI special court.
During the examination by CBI prosecutor, Raju identified Father Kottoor, who was also present in the court. Raju told the court that he identified both Father Kottoor and Father Jose Puthrukkayil, who was later discharged from the case after CBI summoned him for an identification parade after the arrest of the accused in the case in 2008.
Raju had earlier given a sworn statement to the judicial first-class magistrate in Ernakulam. He also levelled serious allegations against the crime branch team, which had initially probed the case. He said he had been picked up by the crime branch sleuths and kept in custody for almost 60 days.
“Samuel sir (crime branch officer) asked me to own up the crime. He said I would get a new house, my kids would get a good education and my wife would get a new job if I agreed to the proposal. I was brutally tortured in custody with my hands and knees tied up. I had thought of owning up the crime at one point. But, by that time, another person, who landed up in the custody, helped me by informing the court about my plight. Then, I was handed over to Kottayam West police where I was booked for a theft case,” said Raju.
However, during the cross-examination, advocate B Raman Pillai representing the Christian priests listed out around 10 criminal cases in which Raju had been an accused. He said Raju had been a juvenile delinquent and admitted to juvenile home for two years.
Raju did not deny accusations made by lawyer Pillai, which included cases of stabbing a man and abetting the suicide bid of his own wife. The defence lawyer tried hard to prove that the witness had a questionable character and his statements could not be taken on face value. The cross-examination of Raju will continue on Friday.
Sister Abhaya, a Catholic sister, was found dead in Saint Pius X Convent in Kottayam on 27 March 1992. Abhaya was a member of St. Joseph’s Congregation for religious sisters under the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Kottayam, Kerala.
Initially, the local police which investigated the case had closed it with a theory of suicide. The Crime Branch which took up the investigation also later tried to strengthen the suicide theory, with claims of psychological illness of the deceased.
However, with CBI taking charge of the probe concluded that it was indeed a murder and found two priests and a sister responsible for the murder and arrested them on 19 November 2008. Father Jose Poothrikkayil, Father Thomas M. Kottur and Sister Sephys are all accused of murdering Sister Abhaya, whose body was mysteriously found in convent hostel’s well.