Priests, Nun Held for Sister's Murder

Times of India
November 19, 2008 articleshow/3731532.cms

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: After dragging its feet for over 15 years, the CBI on Wednesday arrested two Catholic priests and a nun in the controversial

sister Abhaya murder case.

The two priests — Thomas M Kottur and E Jose Poothrukka — and the nun, sister Stephy, were picked up on Tuesday night from Kottayam by a CBI special team. Sister Stephy was Abhaya's mate at Pius X Convent Hostel run by influential Knanaya Catholics in Kottayam. This is the fifth CBI team probing the case.

They were produced before a court in Kochi, which remanded them in CBI custody until December 2. The arrests follow the testimony of a new witness, Sanjay P Mathew. Mathew, who stays next to the convent, is believed to have given CBI sleuths clues about the presence of the two priests in the convent on the night of March 26, 1992 when she was murdered.

The arrests, first in the case, come more than 16 years after the death of the nun. Twenty-one-year-old Abhaya's body was found in a well in the convent hostel. With allegations of involvement of some brethren, the case cast a shadow on the church, which, however, denied anything to do with it.

But much to the embarrassment of the clergy, which had called it a case of suicide, the trio's arrest only reaffirms doubts about what transpired in the convent on the fateful night. Abhaya, investigators believe, was murdered after she witnessed alleged sexual escapades of the priests who were regular visitors to the convent.

The case assumed political overtones after the police wrote if off as a suicide. A crime branch probe followed only to concur. Well wishers then formed the Abhaya Action Council and demanded a CBI probe which was accepted by the government.

Interestingly, the first CBI team which probed it too termed it a suicide. The twist in the tale came when a second team headed by DSP Varghese P Thomas took over. He concluded that it was a case of murder. But in December 1993, Thomas who still had eight years of service, put in his papers charging his supervisory officer V Thyagarajan, SP, with, putting pressure on him to close it as a suicide case.

The latest arrests came after a fresh round of litigation in the Kerala High Court which put its foot down. The agency had refused to arrest the priests and the nun even after narco tests on them pointed fingers at their complicity.

That was when the high court summoned the case monitoring officer and warned him. The case was then transferred to the Kochi unit of the CBI which swung into action and arrested the trio. Kottur, who was a lecturer at the Kottayam BCM College at the time of the incident, is now the Chancellor of the Kottayam diocese. Poothrikka is the principal of a college in Kasargode.


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