Nun’s Murder – Credibility crisis for judiciary over Hema’s remarks

via PNS | Kochi published on January 5, 2009

High Court judge K Hema’s observations in the order granting bail for
three persons accused in the Sr Abhaya murder case have caused a
credibility crisis for the judiciary in the State as most of her
remarks were rejected by the
concerned quarters within hours.

observations have led to a situation where lawyers, the common people
and even retired judges are openly speaking against the remarks made by
Justice Hema against the CBI, the media and the Central Forensic
Laboratory in Bangalore. The general feeling is that Justice Hema had
only jeopardized a probe which had brought some convincing results
after 16 years.

Sr Abhaya was murdered on March 27, 1992, and
the three accused in the case – two priests and a nun of the Knanaya
Catholic Church to which Sr Abhaya had belonged – were arrested on
November 19 last.

Granting bail to the three accused on
January 1 after a dramatic deferment of the case earlier, Justice Hema
said in the order that CBI had been finding out culprits as it liked
and not on the basis of solid proofs. The judge said that the doctor
who had carried out the post-mortem on Abhaya’s body had indicated that
it was a case of suicide but the CBI had projected it as a case of

She said that the Central Forensic Sciences Laboratory,
Bangalore had manipulated the reports of the narco-analyses on the
three accused. She also pulled up the media for ‘hanging’ the priests
and the nun already. She said the media had tried to bury the truth.

24 hours of her order containing the remarks, Dr C Radhakrishnan,
former police surgeon at the Medical College Hospital, Kottayam who had
conducted the autopsy, deposed before the First Class Judicial
Magistrate in Kolenchery that he had never opined that Sr Abhaya could
have committed suicide.

On the contrary, he had reported that Sr
Abhaya had died due to drowning amidst an attempt to murder her. He
also told the court that Sr Abhaya had received three strikes in her
head with some blunt object before she died by drowning. He
specifically told the court that drowning of a person did not mean that
he or she had committed suicide.

Legal experts are now
expressing suspicions about situation under which Justice Hema had made
the observation. The laboratory reports had clearly said that the water
samples found in Sr Abhaya’s stomach and lungs after death were from
different sources meaning that Sr Abhaya had not drunk water in the
well, which ruled out even the distant possibility of suicide. Lawyers
are surprised that how a judge could miss this point and attribute
things that he has not said to a doctor.

Justice Hema, who made
the observation that the CBI was led more by its imagination than the
evidences in finding Fr Thomas M Kottoor, Fr Jose Puthrukayil and Sr
Seffi as accused, had directed the agency to engage officials with more
experience and efficiency to oversee the investigations, leading the
agency into a crisis.

As the probe-by a 30-member team is headed
by a DySP (Nandakumar Nair) who had received accolades for his
efficiency, supervised by a DIG (Kanthaswamy of the Chennai unit) and
Joint Director (Ashok Kumar from Delhi) and monitored on a regular
basis by none other than by the agency’s Director Ashwini Kumar
himself, the CBI says it will be impossible for it to find a more
efficient hand in the entire agency.

Legal experts said that
they were surprised to find out that Justice Hema perhaps had not
understood how the probe was being held and who all were controlling
it. “Otherwise, she wouldn’t have made this demand. Whom would she
suggest as a more efficient person than the agency’s director himself?”
asked a lawyer of the High Court.

The judge’s attack against the
media for allegedly conducting its own trial of the three accused was
met with severe criticism from the Kerala Union of Working Journalists
(KUWJ). Union office-bearers said that the judge was not being fair in
making such remark as she had obviously not looked into the truth of
the matter.

The union general secretary said that if the case
was still alive 17 years after the murder its entire credit should go
to the media just because it was the media which kept the issue alive
all these years. He also said that unlike the judge had charged, the
media could not bury truths in these days of tough competition.

also said that Justice Hema was unfair in her criticism of the media
because a section of the media had been consistently campaigning to
save the accused, who were senior personalities of the Knanaya Catholic
Church. They also pointed out that Justice Hema had failed to look at
the fact that even KT Thomas, a retired Supreme Court judge had written
an article in a newspaper in tones reflecting efforts to project the
accused as innocent.

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