Kottayam: The murder of Kevin P Joseph had shocked the whole of Kerala, not just Kottayam town, as the state rarely reported an honour killing, at least in the recent past. On Tuesday, the Municipal Sessions Court here sentenced to life all the 10 convicts in the 'rarest of rare case'.
Kevin was abducted and killed by his fiancee Neenu's family in May 2018. Several dramatic incidents had happened in a short span before and after his murder, which has been deemed an honour killing by the local court.
The Kevin murder case saw umpteen developments that rattled Kerala. The series of events that culminated in murder included abduction and assault,; the delay over police probe, an excuse over providing security for the Kerala Chief Minister, cops taking bribe, attempts to scuttle the probe, and the opposition stalling the assembly.
During the trial, the accused looked very much at ease at the principal sessions court in Kottayam. To confuse the main witness and Kevin's friend Anish, the accused had all turned up in same hair style and wore white clothes. However, the same accused later broke down in court after they realised that there was no way out.
Kevin's mother has one image etched on her mind - a bunch of smiling faces in court. Those faces were of her son's killers! "When Neenu went to give her statement in court, we also accompanied her. I was crestfallen to see the smiling faces of the accused. No mother should suffer a similar predicament," Kevin's mother Mary said.
Kevin was eliminated as Neenu's family objected to an alliance with a Christian youth who has Dalit roots.
Case on fast-track
The probe and trial into the sensational murder case was completed in record time as it was regarded as an honour killing. The police completed the probe and submitted the charge-sheet within 85 days. The court pronounced the verdict in 448 days.
District principal sessions judge C Jayachandran considered the case. After getting special permission from the High Court, the summer holidays were cut short to 10 days. Instead of 11 am, the trial began at 10 am every day.
Special Prosecutor C S Ajayan examined 113 witnesses in three months. Six of the witnesses turned hostile.
Anish recalls abduction
Kevin’s relative Anish, who was also abducted along with the youth, recounted the incident. He was later let off by the gang.
"Kevin and I went to sleep around 11.30 pm at my house at Mannanam. I woke up when I heard the shattering of windowpane. There was some shouting and ruckus outside. I was really scared. Someone broke into the house through the kitchen door. I moved to a corner of the room as the intruder screamed out. Another person charged towards me, shouting ‘You will hide the girl, right?' I pushed him away and ran to Kevin's room. But Kevin was nowhere to be seen. They had first taken Kevin away from the house.
“Another assailant hit my head with a chair. I pushed him away as well and ran to the hall. Then a person, wielding a machete, asked me to get into the car. I had no option but follow his order,” Anish said.
“As I got out of the house, they slapped me hard and my face was bleeding. They dragged me into the car. There were five others in it. They said they will kill me after taking me to Punalur. It was an Innova car.
“I sat on one end of the rear seat. They assaulted me during the course of the journey. Those who were sitting up front would take turns, come to the rear end and hit me. As black film was stuck on the windows, I could not see the places outside. They did not let me look ahead as well. The moment I raised my head, they would hit me,” Anish recollected.
“One of the gang members said that the girl's brother had given them a 'quotation' for Rs 1.5 lakh and that they would leave for Goa once this is done. They kept on telling me that they would kill Kevin and me. They also spoke badly about Neenu,” he said.
“In between, they called one person in Kevin's car and asked me to speak to Kevin over the phone. They forced me to tell Kevin, ‘you will not go after the girl.’ But I did not hear Kevin's voice on the other end. I was not sure if Kevin was at the other end. The assailants were constantly talking to those in Kevin's car. At one point, they told me, ‘This is Thenmala. If you want, you can enjoy the scenery around. You will never see any of this again in your life.’ That's when I realised that we were on the Thenmala route,” Anish said.
“When I said that I was feeling sick, they stopped the car. The vehicle in the front was an i20. Kevin was taken in that. I saw them dragging Kevin out of the car by his legs and made him lie on the ground. I am not sure if he was alive then.
“One from the gang stood guard next to Kevin. Those in the i20 also came out and started assaulting me. By this time Kevin went missing. I heard them say, ‘He has escaped. He has run away and all...’ But if Kevin was in a position to run, would they move away from his side?” Anish remarked.
“They asked me to call out Kevin. Though I shouted out his name, there was no reply. I was bundled back into the Innova.
“Meanwhile, Neenu’s brother Sanu Chacko arrived in a WagonR. They decided to let me go on the condition that Neenu would be returned to her family. Then they took me in Sanu’s car till a petrol bunk at Pathanapuram,” he said.
Anish further said that he was made to agree to a set of conditions by the gang.
"I should not file a case and should say that he (Kevin) is fine. Besides I should intervene to make Neenu return. I wiould be given compensation of Rs 50,000 for the damages at home. Then from Pathanapuram, they took me to Sankranthi in Kottayam in another Innova. They left me after warning that I would be killed if any of the conditions were not honoured,” Anish narrated.
Neenu on police laxity
Meanwhile Neenu, who directly went to the police station to file a complaint on Kevin’s abduction, said the cop appeared to be least interested in taking up her case.
"When Kevin went missing, the first complaint was given to SI MS Shibu. We had earlier met him at the (Gandhinagar) police station. Though Kevin had showed him the wedding registration documents then, the SI ignored them and spoke for the other side. He did not even act when he saw me being forcefully taken away. Even then he asked me if I had changed my mind.
"Though I sat at the station from morning till evening on the fateful day, no move was made to initiate the probe. The Chief Minister was visiting the district for a function. Others were told that the cops were busy with that. If they had at least carried out a vehicle inspection on that day, then they would not have been able to take Kevin from Kottayam..." Neenu stated.
The SI had delayed the investigation by citing the CM's visit to the district.
Though he received information on Kevin's abduction by 7 am that day, he did not take any action. It was only after Manorama News aired the news on the abduction that the cops swung into action. As Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan too intervened in the case, the probe was speeded up.
However, even after the seniors asked the cops to head to Thenmala for the investigation by noon, the probe was conducted only by 8 pm.
SI Shibu's defence
SI Shibu of the Gandhinagar police station in Kottayam was accused of delaying the probe. However, he chose to justify his actions.
"ASI T M Biju had informed me around 6 am on May 27 that Neenu's relatives had abducted Kevin and Anish. I had informed DySP Shajimon Joseph by 7 am over the phone. Then he asked me 'if this wasn't the same incident ASI Biju had said?' The district police chief was also informed around 10 am. From 2 pm till 5 pm I was on the VIP duty, providing security to the CM. Therefore, I could take up the Kevin case only by 4 pm. I could probe for only half-a-day. When Anish, who was let off by the assailants, came to the station, he had a black eye. He appeared to be extremely frightened and looked to be under lot of mental distress."
Shibu said that as the FIR had to be immediately lodged, Anish was asked to make a short statement.
Shibu gave his version after Anish claimed in the court that the SI did not allow him to get into the details.
Bid to mislead probe
The gang that abducted Kevin had tried to adopt a ‘Drishyam’-model plan to mislead the probe. (Mohanlal-starrer ‘Drishyam’ was a film on how an ordinary person gets the better of a bunch of cops in a murder case.) Like in the movie, one of the accused in the Kevin murder case, put his mobile phone in a lorry heading to Andhra Pradesh. The absconding accused hoped that the police would go to Andhra after finding the mobile tower location. The police did check the mobile tower location. However, an Andhra native, who came across the lost phone in the lorry, inserted his own SIM card and used the gadget. The police tracked down this person, and they came to know that only the phone had arrived and that the accused had not been to Andhra.
Neenu now pursuing studies
After the incident, Neenu has been living with Kevin's family. His parents regard her as their own daughter.
Neenu is currently studying at a college in Bengaluru.
Kevin's sister Kripa, who works at the Kottayam Medical College Hospital, is also offering all her support.
Timeline of the honour killing
Neenu Chacko of Thenmala in Kollam district had come to Kottayam to pursue her graduation course at Amalagiri College. She happened to meet Kevin P Joseph and a love affair commenced. Though Neenu left Kottayam after completing her graduation, their relations grew strong.
Meanwhile, Neenu's family fixed a marriage alliance for her, paying little heed to her objections. Neenu then left for Kottayam under the pretext of an examination. That day Neenu stayed at the house of Kevin's relative in Kaduthuruthy. They also made the online application for marriage registration. After they officially signed, Neenu called up her parents and informed them that she was married.
Fearing backlash from Neenu's family, Kevin shifted her to a hostel. Neenu's family was not able to accept her relationship with Kevin, a Dalit Christian. The difference in their financial situations also did not favour the love-struck couple.
May 25, 2018
On coming to know of their relationship, Neenu's father Chacko John came to Kottayam to meet Kevin’s father Joseph. The meeting was held at Joseph's two-wheeler workshop near SH Mount. Chacko demanded that Kevin back off from the relationship.
Neenu's maternal aunt and another relative too visited Kevin's house, and reiterated the same demand. The stiff opposition from Neenu's family only strengthened the couple's resolve to get married.
Meanwhile, Chacko filed a complaint with the Gandhinagar police station in Kottayam stating that his daughter was kidnapped by Kevin. Joseph came to know of this, when one of his friends from the police station, called and informed him. He reached the station.
By then, the police had summoned both Kevin and Neenu to the station. Though the couple showed their marriage registration documents, the cops did not even bother to check them. Chacko tried to forcefully take Neenu with him, but she cried out that she wanted to be with Kevin. After it was noted in the records, the police let her go with Kevin. Neenu returned to her hostel.
Minutes before he was abducted by Neenu's relatives, Kevin had assured her that he would take care of everything.
"You don't have to worry about anything. I will come and take you along with me," Kevin's last words continue to torment Neenu.
That fateful night, they had ended the phone conversation with renewed hopes of a life together. They spoke on the phone till 1 am. Neenu said she had no thought of any danger lurking during that time. Kevin told Neenu that they need to talk to the ward member about the marriage registration and asked her to wake up him in the morning. Soon after they ended the call, the gang of goons attacked Anish's house at Mannanam.
2 am, May 27
A 13-member gang abducted Kevin and his relative Anish from the house at Mannanam. The criminals planned to keep the duo at an under-construction building at Vellimathattu in Thenmala. They also plotted to threaten Kevin and make him have Neenu come to the hide-out.
Meanwhile, Kevin's father and local people went to the Gandhinagar police station and informed the cops about the abduction. But the cops refused to take the matter seriously.
Anish, who was dropped at Sankranthi, near Kottayam town, went to the police station. Though the police filed a case over the statements made by the brutally assaulted Anish, they refused to probe about Kevin's whereabouts.
Neenu went to the police station to file the complaint. However, sub-inspector (SI) M S Shibu said that he was busy with the Chief Minister’s visit to Kottayam and that he would probe after that.
5 pm, May 27
After CM's meet, police present Neenu before the magistrate. They begin the probe by 6 pm. Gandhinagar SI leaves for Thenmala.
The car in which Kevin was abducted was found at Thenmala. The police nab one of the accused, Ishan. He gave statement that Kevin jumped off the car at Piravanthoor near Thenmala. The police conduct searches in the area.
8.30 am, May 28
Kevin's body is found in the Chaliyakkara stream, around 20 km from Thenmala. Opposition parties and youth outfits storm to the Gandhinagar police station in protest. Within hours, the Kottayam SP and DySP are transferred. Gandhinagar SI, ASI, and two civil police officers are suspended. Six teams, were formed under two IGs, to hunt down the culprits.
After Ishan was caught early, th other accused Niyas and Riyas were caught from Tamil Nadu. Neenu’s brother Sanu Chacko and father Chacko, who had gone into hiding, surrendered at the Karikkottakary police station in Kannur.
Punalur native Nishad, 34, and Shibin, 27, who turned up at the Ettumanoor court, along with an advocate, to surrender, was caught by the police. Tittu Jerome, 24, who reached the Peermade court was also arrested.
All the 14 accused in the case were arrested by the police. Shanu, Shinu and Vishnu, who were hiding at Ambarampalayam, near Pollachi, surrendered at Puthunagaram police station in Palakkad. They were part of the gang that abducted Kevin. Renish, 20, of Punalur, and Fazal (Appu) of Kanjiramala were caught from Punalur. As they tried to flee in a car, Punalur SI J Rajeev chased them down.
Hearing in the Kevin murder case begins at the Kottayam additional sessions court.
The court decides to consider the murder as a case of honour killing.
August 22, 2019
After trial over several days, the court terms the Kevin murder case as honour killing. Ten accused, including Sanu Chacko, are found guilty. However, Neenu's father Chacko John and three others are acquitted.
Hearing on the quantum of punishment completed. The court terms the case to be the rarest of the rare.
The crucial verdict in the Kevin murder case.
The 10 convicted in the case
1. Sanu Chacko (26), Neenu's brother
2. Niyasmon (Chinnu, 23), Neenu's maternal cousin
3. Ishan (20), the adopted son of Niyasmon'd father Nasiruddin. He is also accused in a case for trying to kill a relative of Riyas
4. Riyas (26), Neenu's cousin
5. Manu Muraleedharan (26), auto driver and Niyasmon's friend
6. Shifin (27)
7. N Nishad (24)
8. Tittu Jerome (24), a friend of Niyas drove the car in which Kevin was abducted.
Accused no. 1 to 10 have been slapped with charges of murder (IPC Section 302), kidnapping (Sec 364 A), and threat to kill (Sec 506-2). Conspiracy (Sec 120B) charges were slapped on Sanu, Niyas and Riyas.
Niyas, Riyas, Manu, Tittu, Fasil, and Shanu have been booked for house trespass (Sec 449), wrongful confinement (Sec 341) and mischief causing damage (Sec 427).
Nishad and Shanu have been slapped with assault (Sec 323 and 324) charges. Shifin has been booked for destroying evidence (Sec 201).