Sunday, January 4, 2015

Kerela priest Fr. Antony Lazar gets death sentence

Deadly sin

Marykutty murder case: Kerela priest gets death sentence
Sreedhar Pillai  March 5, 2013 | UPDATED 12:43 IST
For three months, thousands crowded the Quilon district and sessions court as the Marykutty murder case edged towards its chilling climax. Last fortnight, with the denouement at hand, the 5,000-strong crowd greeted the verdict - broadcast over loud speakers - with loud applause. The main accused, Father Antony Lazar, 49, and his "hired goonda" Nelson alias Sasi, 30, were awarded the death sentence for the murder of Marykutty, an attractive 27-year-old nurse. Seven others were given life imprisonment.
What gave the Marykutty murder case such a sensational twist were the protagonists - a Roman Catholic priest, Father Lazar and his paramour, Marykutty, whom he had murdered. In Kerala, which has a large Christian population, the sordid revelations of sexual liaison between them, leading to her death had transfixed the entire state.
As the case unfolded in the Quilon court, it was like turning the pages of a lurid novel. Marykutty first met Lazar when she was a nursing student at the church-run Benziger Hospital in Quilon in 1979. The priest was then in charge of constructing a new block for the hospital. The couple were soon involved in a torrid affair. After her nursing course, Lazar used his influence to get her a job in a private hospital near Quilon. Later he got her a job in a church-run hospital adjacent to his house. Ignoring the scandal involved in a priest having a sexual affair, Lazar took Marykutty with him on outstation trips.
The seeds of the tragedy were sown in 1985 when Marykutty started pestering Lazar to renounce the church and marry her. Lazar instead suggested she marry somebody of his choice, so that they could continue their affair.
Father Antony Lazar (centre)
She refused and thus sealed her fate. In a tit of jealousy, Lazar tried to sabotage her nursing career and also aborted marriage proposals that came her way. Finally she married Lazar Miranda of Paravur in August 1985. The judgement says that at this point "Father Lazar became as vengeful as a poisonous snake which had been unwittingly hurt".

The court had good reason for making such a strong statement. Before Marykutty's marriage, the priest got her to sign an agreement saying that she had received Rs.30,575 from him. Lazar had given Marykutty the money for her family but later used it to blackmail her. According to her husband Miranda: "She was forced to execute such an agreement to get back her passport and certificates from the priest." Lazar then filed a civil suit against Marykutty and issued dire threats.
Marykutty's complaint to the church authorities and her vain bid for police protection only added fuel to the fire. The priest had made it clear that he would only leave her alone if she returned to his bed. But Marykutty, by now a mother, was in no mood to oblige. As the court said: "Blind with sexual jealousy, he at last decided to do away with her." On October 13, 1986, Lazar's "hired goondas" led by Sasi stormed her house in Kundara near Quilon and assaulted her. Ironically, the same morning her husband had complained to the local police about Lazar's threats. Marykutty was rushed to the Trivandrum Medical College Hospital where she died the next day.
The crime branch, which took up the investigation, traced the priest to a hospital in Madras and arrested him in the first half of 1987. Since then, the case has attracted unusual interest as the prosecution paraded 81 witnesses to establish Lazar's guilt.
What added to the sensation is the fact that this is the third time in the state that a priest has been involved in sex-related murders, in 1966. a Catholic priest, Joseph Bendict, was given the death sentence for the murder of his paramour Mariakutty. Later, he was acquitted by a division bench of the high court. In 1985, a Protestant priest Ravi Achan, a student of the Homoeopathy college near Kottayam, attempted to rape 17-year-old Jolly. She died as a result. Achan was awarded a life sentence.
Portrait of Marykutty: Brutal murder
The increasing sex crimes of priests have shaken the church in Kerala. Says pastor T. Sathyadas Vattapara: "Compulsory celibacy encourages sex crimes among the priests." One reason could be that the church in Kerala, be it Catholic or Protestant, has no dearth of money. Crores of rupees from foreign religious funding agencies are pumped into the church every year. Some priests are thus tempted to maintain an unChristian life-style.

At least six Catholic priests from Kerala have asked the Vatican for "extraordinary permission" to get married and remain in the Catholic fold. But Pope John Paul II has so far not agreed. Warned Joseph Pulikunnel, secretary of the Kerala Catholic Almya Association: "Unless the church allows priests to marry, the Catholic Church will have to face more embarrassment." But considering the shock and sensation caused by the Lazar case, the church in Kerala is bound to be more careful in ensuring that their priests do not violate any more Commandments.
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  • August 11 1989
  • Courtesy:
The Kerala high court has reduced to life imprisonment a death sentence passed on a Catholic priest convicted of involvement in the murder of a woman three years ago.
A two-man division bench of the high court said Aug. 4 that facts of the case "clearly showed that Antony Lazar and Sasi had conspired with seven others to murder Marykutty."
The district court of Quilon, 150 kilometers south of Cochin, sentenced Father Antony Lazar of Punlaur diocese to death in 1988, after finding him guilty of plotting the murder of a Catholic nurse, Marykutty (Little Mary).
He allegedly had illicit relations with the 20-year-old nurse for several years. According to the post mortem report, she had 19 wounds on her body.
The district court also sentenced to death Sasi, leader of an eight-man gang that broke into the woman´s house and clubbed her at the priest´s bidding. The priest was angered by her marrying another man.
The other gang members received prison sentences ranging from three to 14 years.
The district judge, in reading his verdict, said that despite a respectable position in society, the priest must be given the severest punishment under India´s penal code because he plotted the crime against a helpless woman.
The court case and verdict, announced July 22, 1988, received wide coverage in India´s national press. However, Kerala high court judges said the case was not the "rarest of rare" ones which merit extreme punishment.
The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty should be given only in the "rarest of rare cases."
The high court also confirmed the sentence of life imprisonment awarded by the lower court to four of the accused. Three others were aquitted for lack of sufficient proof of involvement in the crime.
Marykutty was murdered Oct. 13, 1986, while on the staff at the primary health center at Kundra near Quilon.
The prosecution said that while she was a student at Benzigar Hospital in Quilon, she developed an intimate relationship with Father Lazar.
The priest gave financial help to the poor student while she completed her studies. She became disillusioned when the priest refused her request to marry, and married another man in 1985.
In announcing the verdict, the district judge said Father Antony Lazar became "as vengeful as a poisonous snake."
The priest´s sudden disappearance after the crime attracted suspicion, and he reportedly traveled incognito. He was arrested in November 1987 at Madras, the capital of neighboring Tamil Nadu state.
Father Lazar is the third priest (one Orthodox and two Catholics) convicted of murder in Kerala, whose 30 million people include 4.5 million Catholics.
The first occurred in 1966, when a Father Benedict created a similar storm in the state. A lower court sentenced him to death, but the high court later set him free, saying he was wrongly implicated while real culprits got away.
In another case, a Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox) priest was charged in 1985 with the murder of a teenager while she resisted an alleged rape attempt.

Father George Cherian was sentenced by a district court in Kottayam, 100 kilometers north of Quilon, to life imprisonment, which in India usually means 14 years. But the high court upheld his appeal and set him free.

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