Kerala High Court on Thursday granted bail to the prime accused Sister Stephy and Father Thomas Kottoor as an interim measure in the 1992 Sister Abha murder case, thereby suspending their sentence till the disposal of the appeal.

Both the accused were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2020 by a CBI Court in Thiruvananthapuram.

The Division Bench of Justice K. Vinod Chandran and Justice C. Jayachandran while suspending their sentence had raised prima facie doubts regarding the credibility of the witnesses' statements before the Trial Court, thus observed –

"On a prima facie look at the evidence as pointed out by the defense, and not effectively countered by the prosecution, we cannot but release the two accused, as an interim measure, suspending their sentence till the disposal of the appeal."

The Bench further also held, "We are undaunted by the fact that the accused are ordained members of a Church nor intimidated by the outrage displayed in public."

The Court also noted that the case evoked a lot of public outrage and the initial reference of suicide and repeated requests made by the Investigating agencies to close the case as untraceable, created a frenzy which put officers, men and institutions on the dock, often in the extended media trial.

Both the accused (A1 and A3) faced trial and were convicted under Sections 302, 201, r/w 34 & A1 also under Section 449 IPC and were sentenced to life imprisonment, and a fine of Rs. 5 lacs each.

Senior Advocates P Vijaya Bhanu and B Raman Pillai appeared for A1 and A3 respectively along with Advocates Thomas J Anakkallunkal, Sojan Michael Chacko Simon, and Maria Paul. ASG of India P Sooryakaran Reddy appeared for the CBI.

  • Kottoor's extra-judicial confession to PW6

PW6 claimed to be a social worker; who the defense allege is a vexatious litigant. PW6 deposed before the Court that when he met Kottoor he confessed that he committed a mistake and was living with Sister Stephy as husband and wife at one point of time.

In this context, the Bench held –

"This is styled as an extra-judicial confession; quite strange since the crime alleged is of murder and not lewd immorality…We cannot but notice that A1 is not being tried for the illicit relationship with a woman, even a nun and if at all it is established, it does not establish his involvement in the crime, unless there are other cogent circumstances."

  • Contradictory statements of two doctors regarding Sister Stephy

The two doctors who had examined Sister Stephy deposed before the Court that A3 (Stephy) had sexual relationship with a relative without actual penetration.

The High Court in this context held that the fact above had little connection to her relationship with A1, thus noted –

"We cannot but observe that the conclusion is strained for A3 is not on trial for her loose morals or character flaws."

"We would have expected the two Doctors, who were constituted as a team, for the examination of A3, to have carried out a joint examination and made a comprehensive report of the findings, both, agreed upon and differed from," the Bench opined.

The Court also observed, "The glaring interpolations cannot be shrouded in high sounding words of the 'intrinsic incompatibility within the semantic outcome of holistic frame work of the report' not having been brought out."

The Court also held that the opinion is not definite and the probable inference again is a breach of the chastity vows, which again do not establish the relationship with A1 or the alleged escapade on the crucial night or more critically connect A3 with the crime of murder.

  • How antemortem injuries were caused

The High Court noted that the doctor who had conducted the post-mortem of the deceased had opined that the deceased died due to drowning. However, upon searching examination of the doctor, in the chief examination, an opinion was entered upon as to how the ante mortem injuries were caused.

The doctor had deposed that the possibility of injuries numbered as 1, 2 & 6 being caused by assault with a hard and blunt object cannot be ruled out.

The Bench held, "Quite interestingly the Doctor deposed that a weapon was produced by the I.O which looked like a 'kaikodali', opined to have possibly caused the injuries on the head, by using its wooden handle. In fact, no hand axe (kaikodali) was seized by the Police or produced before Court."

"When a weapon is shown to the Doctor, as possible of being used to commit the crime, we should assume that it was seized from the scene of occurrence or recovered on the same being pointed out by the accused or otherwise; both of which circumstance is not available in this case," the Court held.

The Court further also noted that the IO does not offer any explanation with regard to the hand-axe shown to the Doctor as deposed by the Doctor.

  • Nail marks seen on the neck by the photographer

The Court in this context noted that the nail marks seen on the neck by the photographer PW7 is another aspect heavily relied upon by the Trial Court; which even the Doctor who conducted post-mortem failed to notice or report.

"PW7 hence had not produced any photographs of the body and it was his unsubstantiated deposition that was relied on in contrast to the testimony of the Doctor based on the post-mortem report. The trial judge for the said purpose found the perception of a photographer to be more precise than that of a pathologist; which we cannot countenance," the Bench held.

Thus, the Court ordered that the Petitioners shall be released on bail on the execution of a bond of Rs. 5 lacs each with two solvent sureties, each for the like amount to the satisfaction of the Trial Court.

Click here to read/download the Order