This nun was killed by priest and sister she caught engage in a sex act. Nearly 3 decades later, justice is served
Her white veil was discovered snagged on the door. An open bottle of water was dripping onto the tiles.
In the corner of the space was an ax.
Officers found the criminal activity scene, explained in court files seen by CNN, at St. Pius X Convent Hostel in southern India on March 27, 1992.
Later on that day, they discovered Sis Abhaya’s body in a close by well at the Indian convent, in the city of Kottayam, Kerala.
A post-mortem assessment exposed she had nail marks on both sides of her neck and 2 lacerated injuries on her head. Her body had numerous abrasions and she had actually sustained a fracture to her skull.
In spite of her injuries and the kitchen area criminal activity scene, nobody was given court over Sis Abhaya’s murder for 27 years. Rather, what followed was years of dead-end examinations, afflicted with claims of corruption.
Lastly, last December, guilty decisions were bied far to a priest and nun who had actually gone to amazing lengths to secure their illegal relationship. The court discovered Sis Abhaya had actually strolled in on them while they were engaging a sex act in the kitchen area, and eliminated her to hide their sins. They were sentenced to life in jail.
After almost 3 years of defending justice, her household have one bypassing concern.
“Why did it take so long?” asks Sis Abhaya’s sibling, Biju Thomas.
Stopped working examinations
When she passed away, Sis Abhaya was a trainee at a regional college run by the Knanaya Catholic Church in Kottayam, then house to about 1.8 million individuals.
Amongst India’s Hindu-majority population, 2.3% follow Christianity — a figure that hasn’t altered in more than twenty years. However Kerala has a large Christian neighborhood, around 18% of its individuals.
According to India’s Central Bureau of Examination (CBI), which prosecuted the case, Sis Abhaya awakened at about 4:15am on the day of her murder to study for an examination.
She went to the ground flooring kitchen area to bring some water and it existed district attorneys stated she discovered Dad Thomas Kottoor and Sis Sephy carrying out a sex act. Dad Kottoor taught psychology at the school and Sis Sephy supervised of the convent hostel where the act occurred.
District attorneys stated the set “maintained an illicit relationship”.
The night prior to the murder, district attorneys stated the priest snuck onto the convent premises and remained in Sis Sephy’s space, which was on the ground flooring of the hostel, near the kitchen area.
When they recognized the young nun had actually seen them in a jeopardizing position, the set struck her on the back of the head with a little ax kept in the kitchen area, then tossed her body into a well on the hostel premises.
The information of what occurred that night didn’t emerge up until years later on, after enormous pressure from activists and the young nun’s household. Her dad, in specific, declined to quit.
The very first examination into Sis Abhaya’s death was opened by the Kottayam West Cops Criminal Activity Branch on the day her body was discovered. A year later on, it concluded the reason for her death was suicide.
However Sis Abhaya’s dad, Matthew Thomas, contradicted their variation of occasions and prompted the CBI, the country’s premier examination company, to take control of the case.
They selected it up in 1993, however for 12 years did not charge anybody for her death. Rather, in between 1993 and 2005, the CBI submitted 4 reports, consisting of 3 closure petitions, prompting the Chief Judicial Magistrate to drop the case.
In their very first report, they concurred with Kottayam authorities that the cause of death was “suicide by drowning.” Nevertheless, it was declined by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, and the case was resumed.
Their 2nd report, released in 1996, was undetermined — they might not figure out if it was suicide or murder. Private investigators as soon as again prompted the case to be closed. This was as soon as again turned down.
Their 3rd report, released in 1999, specified it was a murder however didn’t choose any suspects. This was turned down as “unsatisfactory” by the Chief Judicial Magistrate.
Yet another report was submitted in 2005, restating the case was “untraced,” as they might not determine any suspects. And as soon as again, it was turned down by the Chief Judicial Magistrate.
After this, the examination was moved from the CBI New Delhi branch to the CBI in the southern city of Cochin in Kerala.
Lastly, in 2009, the CBI officially charged Dad Kottoor and Sis Sephy with murder, along with another priest, Dad Jose Poothrikkayil, who authorities stated was associated with the killing.
All 3 rejected the charge, along with claims of carrying out an incorrect relationship.
They submitted a termination demand to get the case dropped, and it took another 9 years prior to a judge purchased Dad Kottoor and Sis Sephy to deal with trial. Charges versus Dad Poothrikkayil were dropped due to absence of proof.
On August 5, 2019, the trial lastly started.
District attorneys argued that Dad Kottoor and Sis Sephy went to exceptional lengths to conceal their relationship and criminal activity.
According to the CBI, Sis Sephy went through hymenoplasty, a cosmetic repair to bring back or rebuild her hymen, the day prior to her arrest in 2008, to make it appear that she was still a virgin.
In court, district attorneys implicated law enforcement officer from the Kottayam West Criminal offense Branch of tampering with proof and damaging files important to the examination.
“It is reasonable to suppose that Father Kottoor had at his control the immense resources of the diocese in terms of money and material, and could command the obedience of priests, nuns, and laymen,” the prosecution stated.
District attorneys declared lead detectives, consisting of the Superintendent and the Deputy Superintendent of the authorities, contributed in the conceal.
The judge concurred with the prosecution’s assertions that early authorities detectives made and ruined proof, consisting of the plastic bottle, Sis Abhaya’s slippers, and her white veil.
He purchased the state’s authorities head to make sure that “such misdeeds on the part of the police” do not happen in future.
Just one charge was made versus an examining officer, however that was dropped in 2008 after he passed away.
A minimum of another lead detective from the Kottayam West Cops Criminal Activity Branch, who was implicated of producing and damaging proof, likewise passed away prior to the case concluded.
Dad Kottoor preserves his innocence.
“I have done no wrong. God is with me,” he informed regional press reporters as he got here in court on December 23 for the sentencing hearing.
His legal representative stated the case relied totally on inconclusive evidence. “There is no conclusive evidence,” stated Dad Kottoor’s legal representative, B. Sivdas. “And there was a delay in the investigation, a delay in finding the accused, there were so many loopholes. The court convicted them because the case became a sensation.”
Suicide or murder?
Sis Abhaya — born Beena Thomas — was a “polite and quiet child,” according to her sibling, Biju Thomas. They matured in Kottayam, and were “devout Catholics and followers of Jesus Christ.”
“I remember when she was about five or six, she began taking a huge interest in God and the Bible,” stated Thomas, now 51 and residing in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. “She would read the Bible religiously, and take comfort in its teachings. Everyone loved her. She was always laughing.”
Sis Abhaya was 19 when she was “called to a religious life,” according to Thomas. The household had family members in Germany and Italy who were likewise nuns. Thomas stated that his sis appreciated the regard they got, and the work that they did.
“She wanted to be respected also, and devote her life to Jesus,” he stated.
Thomas was 24 when he was informed that his sis had actually passed away by suicide. “I was so confused because she was happy, and she was following her dream. Why would she have killed herself?” he stated.
Thomas took a trip back to Kottayam town, from the state of Gujarat where he was studying, to be with his household and look after his sis’s funeral plans. Numerous days later on, he visited her body in the morgue and check out the postmortem report that exposed his sis had head injuries and nail marks to her neck.
“These to me showed that something had happened to her before she was thrown in the well,” he stated.
Sis Sephy submitted an eight-page composed declaration specifying that Sis Abhaya struggled with “psychological depression.” She declared that Sis Abhaya originated from an “economically weak family and was not good enough in her studies.”
Some other nuns were “staunch upholders” of the suicide theory, according to the last judgment. They “endeavored to give all support to the accused,” the judgment stated.
“It was very hurtful to hear those things said about my sister,” stated Thomas. “She didn’t kill herself. She was silenced.”
Sis Abhaya’s dad — a low-wage farmer — combated tooth and nail for his child, Thomas stated.
“We were poor people, we didn’t have much money,” stated Thomas. “But my father would travel for hours a day by bus to probe the police to reopen the case and give us the truth.”
“He suffered a lot,” stated Thomas. “He always said ‘someone killed my Beena. I am sure of it’.”
Activist promoted responses
Days after news broke of Sis Abhaya’s death, the suspicious nature of the case stimulated the interest of a young activist, Jomon Puthenpurackal.
“When I heard details about (Sister Abhaya’s) case — the overturned fruit basket, the ax in the kitchen, her slippers in different positions — I knew immediately that something bad had happened to her,” stated Puthenpurackal, who stated he was motivated by Kottayam-based flexibility fighter, K E Mammen, to “do good in the world.”
“I knew she hadn’t committed suicide, like the police and the Church said,” he stated.
Puthenpurackal quickly formed an Action Council to get justice for the killed nun. He took a signed petition, along with Sis Abhaya’s dad, to the CBI, detailing all the claims of corruption and listing crucial witnesses.
Whenever the CBI submitted a petition to close the case, Puthenpurackal kept the pressure on, utilizing the Indian media to keep the case in the public eye, and prompting detectives to dig much deeper.
There was one witness, in specific, who had statement Puthenpurackal felt was crucial to founding guilty the case. Adacka Raju was a “thief by profession,” according to court files. He had actually trespassed onto the hostel school on the night of the murder to take copper plates from the balcony, which he prepared to offer, according to court files.
Raju had actually taken copper plates from the hostel two times previously. However on his 3rd effort — the night of the murder — he informed the court that he saw 2 guys approaching the staircase. He identified one of them as Father Kottoor.
During the trial, defense lawyers vehemently argued against Raju’s version of events and sought to discredit him, by branding him untrustworthy and a “man of no integrity.” They also alleged that he was a witness planted by the prosecution.
The prosecution, however, said Raju was taken into custody by the Crime Branch and kept in the station for 58 days. He was subjected to “inhumane torture” by officers there, who tried to extract a confession to pin the murder on him.
“He stood his ground and did not budge even an inch,” according to the prosecution. “He was offered a substantial monetary reward and a job for his wife and the meeting of the educational expenses of his children and a house to live in, but he did not succumb to these blandishments.”
The police even arrested an acquaintance of Raju’s, and tortured him for two days, according to court documents seen by CNN. The judge stated that the acquaintance’s brother was also arrested and tortured for six days. He was repeatedly informed to testify that Raju had committed Sister Abhaya’s murder.
“Raju faced many difficulties in coming forward,” said Puthenpurackal. “(The defense) completely dehumanized him. But he was one of the only witnesses who stood his ground, despite the mounting pressure.”
“I dedicated my life to this case and I wanted to see it through the end,” said Puthenpurackal, who continued to pursue the case even when it endangered his safety.
Dad Kottoor threatened Puthenpurackal at a protest for Sister Abhaya. According to court documents, Father Kottoor warned Puthenpurackal that he would be “handled in the proper manner,” likewise pointing out that “no one working against the church had ever been spared.”
Long wait for justice
Because religious authorities in India are held in such high regard, victims often find it difficult to come forward if their perpetrators are involved with the church, according to the former president of the All India Catholic Union, John Dayal.
However, in recent years a number of victims in Kerala have come forward to seek justice.
The victim and her parents attempted to redirect focus away from the priest. Her father went as far as telling the court that he was the one who raped his daughter.
Sister Abhaya’s parents died in 2015, before their daughters’ attackers were brought to justice.
“I just wish my parents could have been here to see it happen,” stated Thomas, Sister Abhaya’s sibling. “That’s all they ever wanted.”
Thomas stated he “can rest in peace” and move on with his life, now that the case is finally over.
However, he stated he still has a hard time to reconcile his sis’s love for the church with the scary of what occurred that night — and the reality that those who supposed to share her faith were the ones who “took her away.”
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.