Former priest Herman Jumat Masan in prison in Maumere, Sikka district, East Nusa Tenggara province. (Photo supplied)
Indonesia's top court has commuted the death penalty handed down to a former Catholic priest who was accused of killing his lover — a former nun — and her two children more than a decade ago.
The Supreme Court commuted the sentence to life imprisonment following an appeal by Herman Jumat Masan, a former priest of Larantuka Diocese, who was sentenced to death by the same court in 2014 after it overturned an original life term handed down by a lower court.
Masan was still a priest when he had an illicit affair with Yosefin Kredok Payong, a former nun who left the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit in 1997.
It resulted in the birth of a first child in 1999, which Masan strangled to cover up the affair, his earlier trial heard.
The relationship, however, continued, and in 2002, a second child was born. This time there were complications resulting in Payong suffering heavy bleeding and dying, as did the baby sometime later.
Masan was accused of murder for leaving them to die and then burying the bodies in the compound of a school belonging to St. Peter Major Seminary, in Sikka district of East Nusa Tenggara province.
He left the priesthood in 2008 and went to East Kalimantan before surrendering to police in 2012, following the discovery of the bodies.
Roy Rening, Masan's lawyer, said new evidence had come to light that showed Masan "did try to help the victims," he told ucanews.com on Dec. 20 by phone from prison.
"The victims were not murdered, but died because they received no medical help," he said.
Speaking to ucanews.com, Masan said he accepted the new ruling, but insisted he did not commit premeditated murder, as originally charged.
"Although the threat of the death penalty has been removed, my struggle to let the truth be known has failed," he said.
"It's just me, God and the victims who know exactly what happened. But, obviously, I did not kill them," he told ucanews.com.
"The first child died just five minutes after birth, because the birth went on too long. I asked Merry Grace [Payong ] to seek help, but she implored me not to tell anyone. The second child died because it was premature. While Merry Grace died because of bleeding nine days after giving birth," he said referring to Payong’s adopted name when she was a nun.
Masan said, he would serve the sentence.
"Maybe this is not enough to atone for my sins, but at least it's a form of my moral responsibility towards Merry Grace and our two babies," he said.
"I'm really sorry for what has happened."
The victim’s family said they respected the death sentence being commuted, saying as Catholics they were opposed to it.
Father Paul Rahmat SVD, director of the UN-affiliated rights and social justice group Vivat International Indonesia said the revised sentence was the best outcome for both parties.
"I think it satisfies the sense of justice of the victim’s family and on the other hand the punishment is part of Masan's responsibility for what he has done," he said.
He added that the decision was also a positive result in Indonesia in terms of the struggle to abolish capital punishment.