When a thief’s statement brought down the holy and the powerful in the Sister Abhaya murder case

Adakka Raju turned a crucial witness in a case that had stumped CBI and justice system for almost a decade thanks to their witnesses changing stance and evidences vanishing
When a thief’s statement brought down the holy and the powerful in the Sister Abhaya murder case
PC: Digi Art/ Presel Divakaran

Christmas has come in early for those fighting the Sr Abhaya murder case. A petty thief has managed to bring a nun, a priest, and a corrupt justice system to its knees when the Thiruvananthapuram Special CBI court announced Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy guilty in the sensational Abhaya murder case. When Adakka Raju decided to steal copper components of a lightning conductor installed atop Pius X Convent’s building on March 27 1992, little did he know that he would unwittingly become an asset in an investigation that would span three decades. He was the prime witness for the CBI who was at wit's end trying to crack the Abhaya murder case.

“I was on the terrace, stealing copper components of a lightning conductor installed atop the building. It was my third visit as I had come there twice before for stealing components. I saw two men walking up the stairs with a torch and they were surveying the surroundings. One of them was a tall man and the other one is Fr Kottoor. As they were there, I abandoned my plan and left the place,” Adakka Raju told the CBI Court.

Raju was able to identify one of the two people as Thomas Kottoor, from a picture in a newspaper, despite 16 years having passed by. The CBI had arrested Kottoor accusing him of murdering Sr Abhaya on the night Raju had seen the two people. Believing his statement to help the case, Raju had gone to the investigating officers but did not expect the events to get complicated. As the investigation would progress, many would approach Raju with sticks and carrots to persuade him to throw away his statement. While some would offer him money (Crores of money), others (allegedly police officers) tried forcing him to recant his statement or confess to the crime. During a court hearing in August 2019, Raju levelled serious charges against the Crime Branch team that had initially probed the case. He said that they had kept him in custody for almost two months.

The initial probe by the police departments had called it a suicide, but the CBI probes accepted murder but could not find the perpetrators. With the Kerala High Court changing the CBI teams after each one failing, one of the later groups identified Kottoor and Sephy as the perpetrators but couldn’t find evidence against them. Meanwhile, many shreds of evidence would go missing and witnesses would turn hostile (recanting registered statements), due to either fear or greed. Despite all this, Adakka Raju’s steadfast statement was perhaps the nail in the coffin for Fr Thomas and Sr Sephy.

The Court held that Fr Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy were guilty under Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (tampering of evidence). The third accused Father Jose Poothrikkayil was acquitted in 2018 due to lack of evidence. The Court, on Wednesday, sentenced Fr Kottur and Sr Sephy to life imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs 5 Lakh each.

Twenty-eight years down the line, as the court announced its verdict, Raju expressed his elation. He told media that although many people approached to bribe him into changing his statement, he did not fall for it. He still lives in a three-cent land in a colony. He also said that he was speaking as Abhaya’s guardian as her parents are not alive now. “My child has got justice. I’m saying my child as there is no one remaining in their family. There are no roots either, hence I'm speaking as her father and I’m extremely happy,” he said.

Adakka Raju was not the only one who had kept the case alive. Jomon Puthenpurackal, convener of the Sister Abhaya Action Council, made sure that the case remained active with hundreds of petitions to the government and courts. The council kept mounting pressure on the state police and alleged them of trying to botch the investigation. After 28 years of battle, he said that the verdict proves that justice cannot be influenced by money or power. “The people’s trust in the judiciary has increased after this verdict. It was God who came in the form of key witness Adakka Raju and helped save the case.”

Jomon has a nine-inch-long deep hack wound on his back — the mark of a murder attempt on him in 1994. “Many people have tried to kill me for standing up for the truth. I studied only up to class VI and never thought I would be able to fight for a case. Though a huge amount of money was spent to save the accused, the CBI Court stood for the truth,” he said.

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