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Catholic priest, nun convicted in 28-year murder case of Indian nun

Church leaders and the initial police investigation had dismissed the case as suicide

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Catholic priest, nun convicted in 28-year murder case of Indian nun

Sister Abhaya's body was found in a well at a Kerala convent in March 1992.

More than 28 years after a 19-year-old nun was found dead in a convent well, a court in southern India's Kerala state has convicted a Catholic priest and a nun of murdering her.

The special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a federal agency, convicted Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy on Dec. 22 but said the quantum of punishment would be announced on Dec. 23.

The court found them primarily guilty of murdering Sister Abhaya, destroying evidence and conspiracy, among other charges.

Soon after the sentencing, police took the defendants into custody. They were taken to a hospital for a health check-up and Covid-19 test and will be remanded in jail, said police.

They will be brought back to the court to hear the punishment only if they are Covid-19 negative, a police official told media.

The body of Sister Abhaya was found in the well of St. Pius Convent in Kottayam district of Kerala state on March 27, 1992.

Church leaders and an initial police investigation dismissed it as a case of suicide. The local police and crime branch, a special wing of the state police that probed the case, also concluded it was suicide.

However, the case was handed over to the federal CBI in March 1993 following representations from various people led by rights activist Jomon Puthenpurackal.

"I am pleased about the court verdict. At last, the truth has triumphed," Puthenpurackal told media after the verdict.

"I have been waiting for this day. It is not my victory alone, but it is of all people who fought it together. It has also proved that money and influence will not always help." 

Puthenpurackal consistently accused the Church of using money and political influence to hush up the case because of priests' involvement.

The CBI had named another priest, Jose Poothrakayal, as an accused but he was discharged earlier.

The deceased, according to the prosecution, reportedly saw the guilty in a compromising position. In a panic, Sister Sephy hit Abhaya with an axe meant for chopping firewood. The three accused then dumped the body into the well, it was claimed.

However, the court's exact finding will be available after it pronounces its verdict on Dec. 23.

Church leaders have not yet reacted to the court verdict.

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