Abhaya's original inquest report was tampered with, testifies handwriting expert

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The prosecution on Monday produced handwriting expert M A Ali, retired scientific officer of Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), to once again establish before the CBI special court that the original inquest report submitted by the Kottayam West Police station in the Sister Abhaya death case was a cooked up one.

During the early part of the trial, one of the witnesses, John Scaria, had testified before the court that the signature against his name on the inquest report was not his. Ali, who had examined the signatures of witnesses in the late nineties, stuck to his original stand that he could not link the signatures on the inquest report to the specimen signatures sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory for verification.

“I examined the questioned signatures and I submitted my report to the CFSL along with reasons for my opinion,” said Ali, a lean man with spiky white hair. The contested signatures were that of John Scaria, T A Nazeer and Xavier.

Senior defence lawyer A Jose, during his cross, showed Ali the contested signature of Nazeer and asked him in which language it had been done. Ali looked closely and said it had “the appearance of English”. “There are two letters in the signature, a capital 'S' and a small 'n', and then a line underneath” he said.

Signature doodles

Apart from the specimen signatures, Jose wanted to know whether Ali had been provided the standard or admitted writings of the witnesses. To this, Ali said no. Jose did not ask further. Perhaps, the defence was trying to establish that the experts were not given enough material to do a proper comparison and, as a consequence, were unable to arrive at a definitive conclusion.

The prosecution's contention is that the inquest report that was first prepared by the police, and on which Scaria, Nazeer and Xavier had affixed their signatures, was dumped and replaced by a new one with forged signatures of the witnesses.

One of the witnesses, Scaria, had testified before the court that he had been to St Pious X Convent on the day of Abhaya's death. He was an aluminium fabrication worker and was scouting for work when he saw a huge crowd in front of the convent. He went inside and saw the nun's body placed near the well. As he was about to leave, a policeman asked him to sign as a witness on a sheet of paper. Scaria also testified that the contents of the paper were not read out to him.

Lost in translation

According to the prosecution, the original inquest report had stated that Abhaya just had a night gown on her when she was lifted out of the well. It had also stated that Abhaya's headscarf, slippers and the axe that was probably used to club her were found in the kitchen. The allegedly tampered version states that Abhaya was properly clothed beneath her night gown, and is silent on the headscarf, slippers and axe.

The defence team had earlier attempted to question the veracity of the specimen signature of one of the witnesses, John Scaria. While Scaria was cross-examined, defence lawyer Raman Pillai asked Scaria whether he knew to read and write English. He said no. Scaria is a sixth standard drop out.

Pillai then wondered how Scaria could sign his name in English. The sample signatures were in English. In fact, Raman Pillai wanted Scaria to give a specimen right there in court. But the court had refused to entertain the request.

Doctors to be crossed

On October 19, the CBI special court had allowed the cross-examination of Dr Praveen and Dr Krishnaveni, doctors who had conducted narco analysis on the second accused, Sister Sephy. Defence lawyer A Jose had argued that the Supreme Court had made it clear that narco analysis was not admissible as evidence in a court of law.

“Even if it is with consent, narco analysis can be used only as an aid in the investigation but not for trial,” Jose had argued. He further said that the narco analysis report could be used for trial only if the narco test had helped the investigators adduce additional proof. “But the prosecution has not informed us of any new proof that they have unearthed with the help of the narco test,” Jose said.

However, the CBI special court overruled the objections.

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