In a major setback to the prosecution, the Additional District and Sessions Court I in Kottayam acquitted Bishop Franco Mulakkal, former head of the Latin Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar, in a rape complaint filed by a nun in the same diocese.
The judge G Gopakumar pronounced the judgment here on Friday with one line “the accused has been acquitted”. The courtroom witnessed dramatic scenes as Bishop Mulakkal’s brothers Philip, Chacko and supporters ran towards the bishop and hugged him while he was coming out of the dock after hearing the judgment. The bishop said that “finally the truth has won”. He left the court premises soon after the
court pronounced the judgment.
Meanwhile, the judgment came out as a shocker to the prosecution and the investigation team as well as the complainant. Responding to the media, special public prosecutor Jithesh J Babu said an appeal would be filed in the higher court.
Former Kottayam district police chief Harisankar, who oversaw the investigation said it was an unexpected verdict as the prosecution and the investigation team expected 100 percent conviction in the case.
He added that verdict which is an aberration of various orders of the higher courts including the Supreme Court with regard to rape cases. “Definitely, the verdict would stand out in the Indian Judicial system. We will verify the interpretations of the court in arriving at the judgment and file an appeal,” he said.
It was on June 29, 2018 that nun lodged a complaint before the then Kottayam district police chief Harisankar that she was raped at a guest house in Kuravilangad in May 2014 and later sexually exploited on several occasions till 2016.
After the complaint was transferred to the Kuravilangad police station, a case was registered against the bishop and a special investigation was formed under the then Vaikom DySP K Subhash to probe into the allegation. The investigation team recorded the arrest of the bishop on September 21 after continuously interrogate for three days at Thrippunithura. He was in jail for 25 days court remanded him.
The charge sheet against the bishop, which consisted of 2000 pages in three volumes, was submitted on April 4. The trial in the case commenced in November 2019, which got delayed owing into various reasons including lockdown induced by the COVID-19.
At the same time, the trial was done under in-camera proceedings and media were prevented from reporting the details of the trial as per the request of Franco’s counsel. Of the 83 witnesses listed by the prosecution, 39 were examined during the trial.
The witnesses, who were examined included Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, Bishop Kurian Valiyakandathil, bishop of Bhagalpur in Bihar, and Bishop Sebastian Vadakkel of the diocese of Ujjain, and 11 priests and 25 nuns.
In a major achievement for the prosecution, none of the witnesses was turned hostile during the trial. The victim nun, who is the first prosecution witness (PW), was examined for 13 days. While the prosecution completed the examination of the nun within two days, she was cross-examined by the defense part for 11 days.
As many as 10 witnesses were examined three days each. While the prosecution produced 83 witnesses and 122 documents, the defense lawyer presented six witnesses and 56 documents in the court.
The bishop has been arraigned as an accused in the case under IPC sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 376 (2k) (rape on a woman incapable of giving consent), 376 (2n) (causing grievous bodily harm during rape), 376 (c) (a) 377 (unnatural offence), 506 (1) (criminal intimidation) IPC Sections).
If proved guilty, the bishop may get a punishment of life imprisonment or a minimum imprisonment of not less than ten years. Special public prosecutor Jithesh J Babu and advocate Subin K Varghese appeared for the prosecution. Adv K Raman Pillai and CS Ajayan were the lawyers of the accused.
Taking into account the law-and-order issues, the police had placed high security arrangements in Kottayam, especially on district Collectorate premises where the court is situated. The deputy Collector, on Thursday also issued a circular directing all the employees in the Collectorate to wear their office identity cards to enter the office premises.