Her white veil was found snagged on the door. An open bottle of water was leaking onto the tiles.
from the corner of the room was an ax.
Officers discovered the crime scene, described in court documents seen by CNN, at St. Pius X Convent Hostel in southern India on March 27, 1992.
Later which day, they found Sister Abhaya’s body in a nearby well at the Indian convent, from the city of Kottayam, Kerala.
A post-mortem examination revealed she had nail marks on both sides of her neck along with two lacerated wounds on her head. Her body had multiple abrasions along with she had sustained a fracture to her skull.
Despite her wounds along with the kitchen crime scene, no one was brought to court over Sister Abhaya’s murder for 27 years. Instead, what followed was years of dead-end investigations, plagued with allegations of corruption.
Finally, last December, guilty verdicts were handed down to a priest along with nun who had gone to extraordinary lengths to protect their illicit relationship. The court found Sister Abhaya had walked in on them while they were engaging a sex act from the kitchen, along with killed her to conceal their sins. They were sentenced to life in prison.
After nearly three decades of fighting for justice, her family have one overriding question.
“Why did which take so long?” asks Sister Abhaya’s brother, Biju Thomas.
When she died, Sister Abhaya was a student at a local college run by the Knanaya Catholic Church in Kottayam, then home to about 1.8 million people.
Among India’s Hindu-majority population, 2.3% follow Christianity — a figure which hasn’t changed in more than two decades. however Kerala carries a sizable Christian community, around 18% of its people.
According to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which prosecuted the case, Sister Abhaya woke up at about 4:15am on the day of her murder to study for an exam.
She went to the ground floor kitchen to fetch some water along with which was there prosecutors said she found Father Thomas Kottoor along with Sister Sephy performing a sex act. Father Kottoor taught psychology at the school along with Sister Sephy was in charge of the convent hostel where the act took place.
Prosecutors said the pair “maintained an illicit relationship”.
The night before the murder, prosecutors said the priest snuck onto the convent grounds along with stayed in Sister Sephy’s room, which was on the ground floor of the hostel, near the kitchen.
When they realized the young nun had seen them in a compromising position, the pair hit her on the back of the head which has a modest ax kept from the kitchen, then threw her body into a well on the hostel grounds.
The details of what happened which night didn’t come to light until years later, after immense pressure by activists along with the young nun’s family. Her father, in particular, refused to give up.
The first investigation into Sister Abhaya’s death was opened by the Kottayam West Police Crime Branch on the day her body was found. A year later, which concluded the cause of her death was suicide.
however Sister Abhaya’s father, Matthew Thomas, refused to accept their variation of events along with urged the CBI, the nation’s premier investigation agency, to take over the case.
They picked which up in 1993, however for 12 years did not charge anyone for her death. Instead, between 1993 along with 2005, the CBI filed four reports, including three closure petitions, urging the Chief Judicial Magistrate to drop the case.
In their first report, they agreed with Kottayam police which the cause of death was “suicide by drowning.” However, which was not accepted by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, along with the case was reopened.
Their second report, published in 1996, was inconclusive — they could not determine if which was suicide or homicide. Investigators Just as before urged the case to be closed. This specific was Just as before rejected.
Their third report, published in 1999, stated which was a homicide however didn’t nominate any suspects. This specific was rejected as “unsatisfactory” by the Chief Judicial Magistrate.
Yet another report was filed in 2005, reiterating the case was “untraced,” as they could not identify any suspects. along with Just as before, which was rejected by the Chief Judicial Magistrate.
After This specific, the investigation was transferred by the CBI brand new Delhi branch to the CBI from the southern city of Cochin in Kerala.
Finally, in 2009, the CBI formally charged Father Kottoor along with Sister Sephy with murder, as well as another priest, Father Jose Poothrikkayil, who police said was involved from the killing.
All three denied the charge, as well as allegations of conducting an improper relationship.
They filed a dismissal request to get the case dropped, along with which took another nine years before a judge ordered Father Kottoor along with Sister Sephy to face trial. Charges against Father Poothrikkayil were dropped due to lack of evidence.
On August 5, 2019, the trial finally began.
Prosecutors argued which Father Kottoor along with Sister Sephy went to remarkable lengths to cover up their relationship along with crime.
According to the CBI, Sister Sephy underwent hymenoplasty, a cosmetic fix to restore or reconstruct her hymen, the day before her arrest in 2008, to make which appear which she was still a virgin.
In court, prosecutors accused police officers by the Kottayam West Crime Branch of tampering with evidence along with destroying documents crucial to the investigation.
“which can be reasonable to suppose which Father Kottoor had at his control the immense resources of the diocese in terms of money along with material, along with could command the obedience of priests, nuns, along with laymen,” the prosecution said.
Prosecutors alleged lead investigators, including the Superintendent along with the Deputy Superintendent of the police, were instrumental from the cover up.
The judge agreed with the prosecution’s assertions which early police investigators fabricated along with destroyed evidence, including the plastic bottle, Sister Abhaya’s slippers, along with her white veil.
He ordered the state’s police head to ensure which “such misdeeds on the part of the police” do not occur in future.
Only one charge was made against an investigating officer, however which was dropped in 2008 after he died.
At least one different lead investigator by the Kottayam West Police Crime Branch, who was accused of fabricating along with destroying evidence, also died before the case concluded.
Father Kottoor maintains his innocence.
“I have done no wrong. God can be with me,” he told local reporters as he arrived in court on December 23 for the sentencing hearing.
His lawyer said the case relied entirely on circumstantial evidence. “There can be no conclusive evidence,” said Father Kottoor’s lawyer, B. Sivdas. “along with there was a delay from 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?
Sister Abhaya — born Beena Thomas — was a “polite along with quiet child,” according to her brother, Biju Thomas. They grew up in Kottayam, along with were “devout Catholics along with followers of Jesus Christ.”
“I remember when she was about 5 or six, she began taking a huge interest in God along with the Bible,” said Thomas, today 51 along with living in Dubai, from the United Arab Emirates. “She might read the Bible religiously, along with take comfort in its teachings. Everyone loved her. She was always laughing.”
Sister Abhaya was 19 when she was “called to a religious life,” according to Thomas. The family had relatives in Germany along with Italy who were also nuns. Thomas said which his sister admired the respect they received, along with the work which they did.
“She wanted to be respected also, along with devote her life to Jesus,” he said.
Thomas was 24 when he was told which his sister had died by suicide. “I was so confused because she was happy, along with she was following her dream. Why might she have killed herself?” he said.
Thomas traveled back to Kottayam town, by the state of Gujarat where he was studying, to be with his family along with take care of his sister’s funeral arrangements. Several days later, he visited her body from the morgue along with read the postmortem report which revealed his sister had head injuries along with nail marks to her neck.
“These to me showed which something had happened to her before she was thrown from the well,” he said.
Sister Sephy filed an eight-page written statement stating which Sister Abhaya suffered by “psychological depression.” She claimed which Sister Abhaya came by an “economically weak family along with was not Great enough in her studies.”
Some different nuns were “staunch upholders” of the suicide theory, according to the final judgment. They “endeavored to give all support to the accused,” the judgment said.
“which was very hurtful to hear those things said about my sister,” said Thomas. “She didn’t kill herself. She was silenced.”
Sister Abhaya’s father — a low-wage farmer — fought tooth along with nail for his daughter, Thomas said.
“We were poor people, we didn’t have much money,” said Thomas. “however my father might travel for hours a day by bus to probe the police to reopen the case along with give us the truth.”
“He suffered a lot,” said Thomas. “He always said ‘someone killed my Beena. I am sure of which’.”
Activist pushed for answers
Days after news broke of Sister Abhaya’s death, the suspicious nature of the case piqued the interest of a young activist, Jomon Puthenpurackal.
“When I heard details about (Sister Abhaya’s) case — the overturned fruit basket, the ax from the kitchen, her slippers in different positions — I knew immediately which something bad had happened to her,” said Puthenpurackal, who said he was inspired by Kottayam-based freedom fighter, K E Mammen, to “do Great from the globe.”
“I knew she hadn’t committed suicide, like the police along with the Church said,” he said.
Puthenpurackal soon formed an Action Council to get justice for the murdered nun. He took a signed petition, along with Sister Abhaya’s father, to the CBI, detailing all the allegations of corruption along with listing key witnesses.
Every time the CBI filed a petition to close the case, Puthenpurackal kept the pressure on, using the Indian media to keep the case from the public eye, along with urging investigators to dig deeper.
There was one witness, in particular, who had testimony Puthenpurackal felt was key to convicting the case. Adacka Raju was a “thief by profession,” according to court documents. He had trespassed onto the hostel campus on the night of the murder to steal copper plates by the terrace, which he planned to sell, according to court documents.
Raju had stolen copper plates by the hostel twice before. however on his third attempt — the night of the murder — he told the court which he saw two men approaching the staircase. He identified one of them as Father Kottoor.
During the trial, defense lawyers vehemently argued against Raju’s variation of events along with sought to discredit him, by branding him untrustworthy along which has a “man of no integrity.” They also alleged which he was a witness planted by the prosecution.
The prosecution, however, said Raju was taken into custody by the Crime Branch along with kept from 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 along with did not budge even an inch,” according to the prosecution. “He was offered a substantial monetary reward along which has a job for his wife along with the meeting of the educational expenses of his children along which has a house to live in, however he did not succumb to these blandishments.”
The police even arrested an acquaintance of Raju’s, along with tortured him For 2 days, according to court documents seen by CNN. The judge stated which the acquaintance’s brother was also arrested along with tortured for six days. He was repeatedly told to testify which Raju had committed Sister Abhaya’s murder.
“Raju faced many difficulties in coming forward,” said Puthenpurackal. “(The defense) completely dehumanized him. however he was one of the only witnesses who stood his ground, despite the mounting pressure.”
“I dedicated my life to This specific case along with I wanted to see which through the end,” said Puthenpurackal, who continued to pursue the case even when which endangered his safety.
Father Kottoor threatened Puthenpurackal at a protest for Sister Abhaya. According to court documents, Father Kottoor warned Puthenpurackal which he might be “handled from the proper manner,” also pointing out which “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 which 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 numerous victims in Kerala have come forward to seek justice.
The victim along with her parents attempted to redirect focus away by the priest. Her father went as far as telling the court which 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 which happen,” said Thomas, Sister Abhaya’s brother. “which’s all they ever wanted.”
Thomas said he “can rest in peace” along with move on with his life, today which the case can be finally over.
However, he said he still struggles to reconcile his sister’s love for the church with the horror of what happened which night — along with the fact which those who purported to share her faith were the ones who “took her away.”