Over 27 years after the suspicious death of Sister Abhaya, the case's trial commenced at the Special Court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Thiruvananthapuram on August 26.
Yesterday, the CBI made a surprise move by producing a retired professor, who had taught Abhaya at BCM College for Women, Kottayam, as an offside witness for the prosecution. The witness, Thressiama, told CBI Special Court judge that the conduct of the priests often appeared to be predatory and several students had complained to her that they had felt uncomfortable. However, senior counsel for the defence, B. Raman Pillai, told the court that the CBI had produced Ms. Thressiama without prior notice.
The court has scheduled to hear the case again on October 1.
Timeline of events
March 27, 1992 - 19-year-old Sister Abhaya’s body found in the well of the St. Pius Convent in Kottayam
January 1993 - Crime Branch files closure report as death by suicide
March 23, 1993 - The Central Bureau of Investigation takes over the probe following a legal battle by human rights activist Jomon Puthenpurackal.
September, 1996 - CBI concludes that the death of Sister Abhaya was a homicide and not a suicide
November 19, 2008 - The central probe agency arrests Fr. Thomas Kottoor, Fr. Poothrikkayil and Sr. Sephy on the charge of murder.
December 2008 - The CBI informs the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ernakulam, that Sister Abhaya was hit twice with an axe on the back of the head, near the right ear. In a report to the Magistrate, the CBI says the investigation revealed that Sister Abhaya woke up on January 27, 1992, the day she was killed, early in the morning, descended the staircase and went to the hostel kitchen to take water from the fridge. The “accused were found in a compromising position by Sister Abhaya,” the agency says. After the murder, the first accused, Fr. Thomas Kottur, and the second accused, Fr. Jose Poothrikkayil, assisted by the third accused, Sr. Sephy, lifted Sister Abhaya. The body was taken out of the kitchen and dumped in a well behind the building.
January 2009 - All three suspects are granted bail. The Kerala High Court observes that it appears that the investigation in the Sister Abhaya murder case is “going off the track.”
February 20, 2009 - Human rights activist Jomon Puthenpurackal releases an autobiography titled Abhaya case diary.
July 17, 2009 - The three accused are charged under the Indian Penal Code sections 302 (murder) and 201 (destroying evidences) read with section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
June 30, 2015 - The CBI says that at least eight objects submitted in court as material evidence in the Sister Abhaya murder case have been deliberately destroyed.
January 22, 2018 - K.T. Michael, former SP, Crime Branch (CB)-Kottayam, is named the fourth accused on charges of destruction of evidence and conspiracy.
March 7, 2018 - A special court removes Fr. Jose Poothrukayil from the array of accused.
April 9, 2019 - The Kerala High Court discharges K.T. Michael in the case and says that he can be made an accused during the trial of the case, if necessary.
August 26, 2019 - Case trial starts after 27 years. The initial day of the trial in the 27-year-old case goes against the prosecution when the nun who the CBI has named as a witness retracts her statement. She denies she had seen Sr. Abhaya’s headscarf, pair of slippers lying beside the well from where her body was fished out the next day. She also denies she had heard the sound of something heavy falling into the well the previous night.
September 17, 2019 - A retired professor, Thressiama, who had taught Abhaya at BCM College for Women, Kottayam, was produced as an offside witness for the prosecution.