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A division bench of the Kerala High Court on Thursday granted bail to Catholic priest Thomas Kottoor and nun Sephy, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment after a CBI court found them guilty of murdering Sister Abhaya, 19, whose body was found inside a well at a convent in Kottayam on March 27, 1992.

The high court acted upon the petitions of the convicted, seeking suspension of their life term. The petition was allowed by the bench of Justices Vinod Chandran and C Jayachandran.

It was in December 2020 that a CBI court in Thiruvananthapuram had convicted the duo for life term after a prolonged legal battle. They were charged under Section 302 (murder) and Section 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The trial court had allowed the discharge petition of another alleged accused Father Jose Puthrikkayil.

The victim and the accused belonged to the Knanaya Catholic Church, headquartered in Kottayam. At the time of her death, Abhaya was a pre-degree student in a college run by the Catholic Church. She was an inmate of Pius X Convent Hostel, which had 123 inmates, including 20 nuns, when the incident happened.

According to the CBI, Abhaya was killed after she found Kottoor, Puthrikkayil and Sephy in a compromising position inside the kitchen of the Pius X Convent hostel. Fearing that she would disclose the incident, Kottoor allegedly strangled her while Sephy allegedly hit her with an axe. Together, they allegedly dumped Abhaya’s body in a well within the compound.

During the trial, eight of the 49 prosecution witnesses had turned hostile. However, the court relied upon circumstantial evidence and the statement of a thief named Adakka Raja. Raja said that he saw the priests when he sneaked into the hostel early on March 27, 1992, the day of the incident.

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