Prime witness of Sister Abhaya case, ‘Adakka’ Raju stated before CBI court that he had seen two priests - Thomas M Kottoor and Jose Poothrikkayil - entering the convent on March 27, 1992. His testimony came on day three of the trial in the Sister Abhaya murder case at CBI Special court in Thiruvananthapuram.
"I had been on the terrace for stealing copper components of the lightning conductor installed atop the convent building. I had committed theft on two days and was there on third day looking for the remaining copper components. I saw two men walking up the stairs with a torch and they were seen surveying the surroundings. One of them was a tall man and the other one was Fr Thomas Kottoor, who in in this court. As they were there, I abandoned my plan and left the place," Raju told the CBI court.
Considering how two witnesses have turned hostile in this 27-year-old Sister Abhaya case case, Raju’s statement could prove crucial. The prime witness has also revealed that the Crime Branch of the Kerala police tried to sabotage the investigation during the initial phase. During the trial ‘Adakku’ Raju or Raju told the court that the Crime Branch officers had asked him to 'confess to the crime that he had never committed'.
During the examination by CBI prosecutor, Raju identified Fr Kottoor, who was in the dock. He later told the court during the cross-examination by Kottoor's lawyer B Raman Pillai that he had identified both Kottoor and Fr Jose Puthrukkayil when CBI summoned him for an identification parade after the arrest of the accused in the case in 2008.
On March 27, 1992, Catholic nun Abhaya was found dead in a well inside the compound of Pious Ten Convent in Kottayam. The CBI had taken over the investigation from Crime Branch in 1993 after the latter and the local police closed the case as one of suicide. Thomas M Kottoor and Sister Stephy (third accused) were charged with murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence. It also said that the accused (Fr Thomas, Fr Jose and Sister Stephy) were in an illicit relationship and the victim Sister Abhaya found them in the act. Fearing consequences, Fr Thomas strangled her, while Sister Stephy beat her with an axe. The three then dumped her in a well when she was partially conscious.
Earlier In his earlier statement, prime witness Raju had told the CBI that he saw two priests - Thomas M Kottoor (first accused) and Jose Poothrikkayil (second accused who was later discharged from the case) - climbing the stairway at the rear side of the convent. But a defence counsel says that 'Adakka' Raju was a thief.
According to Raju’s statement during the trial, when he was called in for questioning, the Crime Branch officials had asked him to admit to committing the crime, and that an amount of Rs 2 lakh will be sent to his family if he did so.
Two crucial witnesses in the case have already turned hostile in this 27-year-old case. Sanju Mathew was the other witness who said he saw the two priests at the convent during odd hours.
It was sixteen years after the crime, that the CBI filed the chargesheet in the case. Incidentally, all material evidence in the case, including the nun’s clothes at the time of the crime and her diary, were tampered with even before the CBI took over the investigation.
VV Augustine, who was the Assistant Sub-Inspector at the Kottayam West police station, was the first policeman to reach the crime spot on March 27, 1992. He conducted the inquest and filed the FIR (first information report). He was alleged to have tampered with the evidence. However, just a day after receiving CBI notice to appear before them, he was found dead.
Former Crime Branch Superintendent of Police (SP) KT Michael was also accused of destroying key evidence in the case. The case was reopened after the Crime Branch investigation was termed a sham and the local police were accused of trying to aid the priests and the nun, the case was reopened.