There were multiple factors which eventually led to the conviction of the two accused, Father Thomas Kottoor and Sister Sephy but none so significant as the role of a very unlikely and peculiar character, a nobody who appeared out of nowhere and eventually went on to be the linchpin of the prosecution case.
Prosecution Witness 3 (PW 3), Raju known as Adakka (Areca Nut) Raju, a thief by profession, turned out be that crucial eye witness whose statement established the presence of accused no. 1, Father Thomas Kottoor at the convent during the night of the murder and clinched the case in favour of the prosecution.
And the judgment by Special Sessions judge acknowledged the role of the thief whom the judge proceeded to describe as “a human being who became a professional thief by the force of circumstances, but a speaker of truth nonetheless.”
According to his own testimony, Raju had entered the campus of the St. Pius X Convent Hostel and climbed on to the terrace of the convent building as part of his attempt to commit theft in the convent where Sister Abhaya died. He had gone there previously on two occasions for stealing the copper plates positioned on the lightening arrester on the terrace and had been successful.
His modus operandi was that he would arrive at the rear side of convent, climb the coco tree behind the compound wall of the convent, and scale down the compound wall, thus, entering, the campus of the convent. He would then climb up the flight of steps to the terrace of the building, remove the copper plate from the lightening arrester by breaking the plate and folding it. Thereafter, he would manage to come down with the copper weighing approximate 6 kg. Later, he would hide the stolen property in a drainage channel, about 1 - 1.5 km away and lie on the veranda of Govt. Hospital, Kottayam to while away time. At around 6 and 7 am he would take the stolen goods to a shop nearby and sell it.
It was his third such attempt on the fateful night which changed the fate of the case.
On the third occasion, when he went to convent for stealing the copper plate, he found that two men were approaching the staircase, with the aid of a torch light. One of them, Raju said, was Father Thomas Kottoor. ‘ക്കോട്ടൂരച്ചമെന എനിറിയോം’ (I know Father Kottoor)", he said in his testimony.
He eventually stole the copper plates and followed his routine of selling it to the shop.
As the judgment itself says, a “high octane challenge” was mounted by the defence to discredit Raju and his testimony. He is not a trustworthy witness as he is a man of no integrity, being a thief by profession, and his version cannot be believed and his revelations show his tainted character, it was argued by defence counsel, B Raman Pillai.
The Court, however, brushed it aside since Raju’s testimony stood the ground due to testimony by another witness, PW 8 Shameer who was the owner of the shop where Raju used to sell his stolen goods.
“The evidence of PW8 corroborates the version of PW3 that PW3 used to sell water meters and copper plate to PW8’s shop. PW8 testified that the last transaction of PW3 with him was on the day of the death of Sister Abhaya,” the Court said.
The defence also highlighted two minor contradictions in the testimony which the Court brushed aside.
“It is noteworthy that PW3 was subjected to continuous, severe and grueling cross-examination by two lawyers for two long days, but he, uneducated and untrained though he was, stood his ground,” the judgment said.
Raju's presence at the spot coupled with the theft of copper plate meant that he was taken into custody by the Crime branch and kept in Crime Branch Station of Eerayilkadavu, Kottayam for 58 days. He was subjected to inhuman torture to extract a confession from him to the effect that he had committed the murder of Sister Abhaya.
But as noted in the judgment, Raju did not budge even an inch.
Raju’s emotional response after the judgment was pronounced summed up his elated mood.
“My child got justice. I wanted justice for her (Abhaya). She got it now, and I am extremely happy. I’ll drink in joy today.”
Speaking to the media, he said that he was offered substantial sum of money to retract.
“I was offered crores. I did not take it. I still live in a colony on three cents of land. I have two daughters. What happens if they are taken away from me one fine morning? I saw that child (Abhaya) like my daughter,” he added.
“PW3 may have been a thief, but he was and is an honest man, a simple person without the need to dissemble, a human being who became a professional thief by the force of circumstances, but a speaker of truth nonetheless,” the Court summed up Raju in a sentence.
Public and media are now shedding the moniker “adakka”, a name which stuck due to Raju’s penchant for stealing Areca Nuts.
Raju is now “Neethimanaya Raju” (Raju, the righteous one).