Thiruvananthapuram: The CBI Special Court Judge Sanilkumar on Wednesday sentenced the two convicts in the Abhaya murder case, Fr Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy, to life imprisonment. The sentences were read out a day after the guilty verdict was pronounced.
Fr Kottoor was charged under three sections of the Indian Penal Code: 302 (murder), 201 (destruction of evidence) and 449 (house trespass). Sr Sephy was slapped with two: Sections 302 and 201.
Fr Kottoor will have to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh for section 302, Rs One lakh for section 201 and Rs 50,000 for 449. Besides life term for 302 and 201, section 449 would invite another term of seven years. However, all the terms would run concurrently.
Sr Sephy will have to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh for 302 and Rs 50,000 for section 449. Failure to remit the fine would invite an additional two years' imprisonment.
The Judge heard the two convicts before the quantum of punishment was declared. Both the convicts, Fr Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy, stood beside the Judge, one after the other, with hands folded like in a prayer. They were seen nodding respectfully to whatever the Judge was asking them. The conversation was not audible because of the huge human buzz in the court hall.
Occasionally, the accused also whispered something to the Judge.
When the day began the prosecution lawyer M Nawaz asked for capital punishment for the two. He said Abhaya's murder can be considered the rarest of rare cases as it was for the first time in history that a priest and a nun had murdered a nun. He said these senior spiritual personalities had the moral obligation to guide Abhaya, a novice.
The defence lawyers sought a lenient punishment as both the accused had been subjected to intense public scrutiny and suffered great mental trauma since 2008 when they were arrested. Both also suffered from multiple ailments, Fr Kottoor from stage 4 cancer and Sr Sephy from kidney issues.
The verdict came 28 years after Sr Abhaya was found dead in the well of the St Pius Convent, Kottayam on March 27, 1992.
Charges unbelievable, honours verdict: Church
The Kottayam Archdiocese, in response to the verdict, said it was pained about the situation.
"Sister Abhaya's death was a sad and unfortunate incident. The CBI Special Court has found that she was murdered by Fr Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy, who belong to this archdiocese. The allegations against them are unbelievable. However, the archdiocese honours the verdict. The convicts have the right to challenge the verdict and prove their innocence," Kottayam Archdiocese spokesperson said in a press statement.