Investigators objected to further delaying the case, saying it was one of the oldest pending criminal cases
Updated: October 09, 2020
Kerala High Court has turned down a plea from a Catholic priest and nun accused of murdering a nun to delay their trial because of surging Covid-19 cases in the southern Indian state.
The top court in the state on Oct. 6 declined a petition from Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy of Kottayam Archdiocese, the main accused in the murder of Sister Abhaya, whose body was found inside the well of her convent in 1992.
The accused wanted the court to defer the trial proceedings, which are at the stage of testimony and cross-examination of witnesses.
The number of daily new coronavirus infections has increased to some 10,000 in Kerala, which had reported about 196,000 cases and 742 deaths as of Oct. 8.
The accused said the pandemic situation has worsened in Kerala over the past two weeks and their aged counsel couldn’t travel about 200 kilometers from his base in Ernakulam town to state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
The special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is based in the state capital.
The federal probe agency arrested priests Thomas Kottur and Jose Poothurukkayil and Sister Sephy over the murder after years of investigations. They were arrested in November 2008 but granted bail in January 2009.
The investigation claimed Sister Abhaya found the two priests and a nun in a “compromising position” inside the convent. The three attacked the younger nun with an axe and dumped her body in the convent’s well, it is alleged.
But in March 2018, a CBI court acquitted Father Poothrukkayil, citing lack of evidence to prove that he visited the convent on the day of the murder.
The death of Sister Abhaya, a member of St. Joseph’s Congregation, was earlier dismissed as a case of suicide by state police.
The trial began in August 2019 but was suspended due to the Covid-19 lockdown in India from March 2020.
The CBI opposed further delaying the case, saying it was one of the oldest pending criminal cases. It also said the court is equipped to conduct a trial through video conferencing.
The court said if the senior counsel appearing for the accused cannot be physically present in the court, proceedings can be conducted online.
The court on Oct. 1 dismissed a similar petition from Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar, who is facing trial on charges of raping a nun.
Some lay Catholics welcomed the order in the murder case.
Shaiju Antony, a lay leader, told UCA News on Oct. 7 that it was “better for the Church” to have the trial and “finish it as fast as possible as any delay only leads to further damage to the image of the Church.”
The cases of Sister Abhaya and Bishop Mulakkal have become scandals in the Church and “inflicted deep injuries in the minds of the faithful,” Antony said.