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Court suspends nun murder proceedings

Petition halts case against two priests and a nun reporter, Thiruvananthapuram

January 17, 2013

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Kerala’s High Court has suspended trial proceedings against two Catholic priests and a nun accused of killing another nun 20 years ago. The ruling came on Wednesday after a rights activist sought a re-investigation of the case.

Jomon Puthenpurackal says India’s top criminal investigation body, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), did not probe several significant aspects of the alleged murder.

He also demanded action be taken against government officials who allegedly tampered with vital evidence.

A special CBI court processing the case had earlier rejected the activist's petition but the High Court accepted it and sent notices to the accused and investigators, seeking their response to the petition.

The victim, Sister Abhaya, was found dead in a well at her convent in Kottayam, in Kerala, on March 27, 1992. She was 19 when she died.

Investigators initially called her death a suicide but requests from the nun's superiors resulted in the CBI taking up the case.

The federal agency’s investigation led to the arrest of Father Thomas M Kottoor, Fr Jose Puthrukkayil and a Sister Sephi in November 2008, 16 years after the alleged murder.

The prosecution says Sr Sephi killed the young nun with the blunt end of an axe after Sr Abhaya caught her in a compromising position with the two priests in the convent’s kitchen. The priests then helped dispose of the body.

Puthenpurackal told that the CBI did not investigate whether Sr Abhaya was raped before she died and who was responsible for tampering with the victim's medical reports at the government forensic laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram.

Puthenpurackal said he approached the High Court to get justice for the victim and her family.

“It is quite clear the three accused will walk free if the trial proceeds based on the existing evidence,” Puthenpurackal said.

But a legal expert says Puthenpurackal’s petition could have the very opposite effect he is looking for.

“This could prolong the trial for years," said Dr Sebastian Paul, a Supreme Court lawyer and media analyst.

He noted that the CBI took 16 years to arrest the accused. A new investigation could take longer as vital evidence has been destroyed.

“This petition may indirectly help the accused avoid trial,” he said.

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