The Kerala High Court on Thursday allowed the applications filed by convicts Sister Sephy and Father Thomas Kottoor seeking suspension of the life sentence imposed on them in the sensational Sister Abhaya murder case.
A Division Bench of Justice K Vinod Chandran and Justice C. Jayachandran thereby granted bail to the convicts with the condition to execute bonds of Rs. 5 lakh each and two solvent sureties. If their conviction and sentence were upheld or even modified, the time during which they are so released was to be excluded in computing the term of their sentence as provided in Section 389(4) CrPC.
The convicts have also been directed not to indulge in any other crime while they are out on bail and to appear before the SHO officer every Saturday for six months and every second Saturday thereafter. The Court also directed them not to leave the State without prior permission from the court.
Senior Advocate P Vijayabhanu appearing for Sister Sephy had submitted that she had been on bail during the investigation and trial period and that she has been serving life imprisonment since December 22, 2020. It was submitted that she had not misused her liberty granted by the Court, nor was there any allegation that she had tried to tamper with the evidence or influence the witnesses while she was out on bail. The counsel argued that if the sentence was not suspended pending the disposal of her appeal, serious prejudice and irreparable injury would be caused to her.
Senior Advocate B Raman Pillai appeared for Father Kottoor and submitted that the trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment despite there being no evidence against him. It was alleged that the findings of guilt entered by the trial court were totally against the charges framed against him and the other accused. The counsel submitted that the CBI court committed the fundamental mistake of failing to notice whether it is a case of homicide or not.
However, CBI countered these arguments with the submission that although the case was built on circumstantial evidence, each circumstance was elaborately discussed by the Sessions Judge. Therefore, it was argued that there was no reason to even prima facie find the conviction to be based on no evidence, especially at this stage. The ASG also submitted that there was no ground to suspend the sentence and he urged for the continued incarceration of the convicts.
Sister Abhaya, a 20 year old novice, was found dead inside the well of St.Pious Xth Convent at Kottayam on March 27, 1992. The local police and the Crime Branch of the Kerala Police had initially closed the matter as a case of suicide. However, owing to a massive public outcry, the case was later handed over to the CBI.
Finally, in 2009, the CBI made headway in the case by filing a charge sheet arraying the appellants and one Father Jose Poothrukkayil as accused. As per the report, Sister Abhaya had accidentally intruded upon Sister Sephy and the other two accused priests in a “compromising position”. It was further alleged that Sephy panicked and on the spur of the moment, hit Abhaya with an axe meant for chopping firewood. After that, the accused dumped Abhaya’s body into a well in the convent’s compound.
In December 2020, the Special CBI Court, Thiruvananthapuram had found the appellants guilty of murdering Sister Abhaya and were accordingly sentenced to life under Section 302 of the IPC.
The culprits were also imposed a fine of Rupees 5 lakh each under Section 302. Kottoor was also imposed with an additional sentence of life and a fine of Rupees one lakh under Section 449 IPC(house-trespass in order to commit an offence punishable with death).
Challenging their sentence and conviction, the convicts had filed an appeal before the High Court in early 2021. This is still pending before the Court.
Case Title: Sister Sephy v CBI
Citation:2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 297
Click Here To Read/Download The Order
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