Jolly Joseph and 3 accused remanded to police custody for six days

After nearly a year of media silence, the Jolly Joseph serial murder case that rocked the South Indian state of Kerala in October 2019, once again made news headlines on Thursday, January 21. Today, the Kerala government, submitted an appeal in the Supreme Court of India, against the state’s High Court, for a recent decision to grant bail to Jolly Joseph. Joseph had been accused of murdering six family members over 17 years, by poisoning them using cyanide.

Manojkumar T. T., a member of the local Omasserry Gram Panchayat (village governing body) Koodathayi told Gulf News: “It is confirmed that the Kerala government has submitted the appeal. We are awaiting further information.”

A year ago, in a 1,800-pages long charge sheet that was filed at the Thamarassery magistrate court in Kerala, Joseph was formally charged with the murder of her family members – her former husband Roy Thomas, his parents Annamma and Tom Thomas, his uncle Mathew Manjadiyil, Sili Sakhariyas (ex-wife of Joseph's second husband) and their two-year-old daughter Alpine. She was also charged with destruction of evidence, and Section 6 (2) of the Indian Poison Act for crimes committed using poison.

According to reports on two local news channels, the appeal was submitted against the High Court’s October 15 decision to grant bail to the main accused, in the case of the murder of Annamma Thomas.

Media gag order

Another source told Gulf News that based on the court hearing, the Kerala High Court had issued an order at that time that strict action would be taken against media channels and police officers if news about extra-judicial confessions to the police or other information obtained during the investigation was reported.

The court’s order came on a bail plea (BA No. 5390/2020, a copy of the court proceeding has been obtained by Gulf News) filed by Koodathayi serial murders accused Jollyamma Joseph, in the case of the murder of her mother-in-law Annamma Thomas in August 2002. The court granted bail to her after holding that it cannot take into consideration the extra-judicial confession while hearing the bail application. The court also, however, noted that Jolly had to remain in prison as she had been denied bail in other cases.

According to the bail plea during the hearing, the prosecution had stated that Jolly Joseph had confessed to the murder of her mother-in-law 17 years ago, using cyanide. However, Joseph’s lawyers appealed that this was an extra-judicial confession, which could not be considered accurate, after so many years, as Jolly could have been “coerced into confessing”.

The copy of the bail plea notes: “The learned counsel for the petitioner submitted that even if the entire allegations against the petitioner are accepted in toto, no offence under Section 302 IPC is prima facie made out in this case against her. The counsel submitted that the prosecution is relying upon some extra-judicial confessions alleged to be given by the petitioner. The counsel submitted that even if that is accepted in toto (Latin for ‘in its entirety’, or completely), the same will not connect the petitioner to the offence under Section 302 IPC. The council also submitted that the petitioner's alleged confession statement was given after about 17 years of the alleged murder of Annamma Thomas. The counsel submitted that extra-judicial confession is a weak piece of evidence. Therefore, a court of law cannot convict the accused based on an extra-judicial confession of the accused.”

In the plea, Jolly Joseph’s defence lawyers also argued that the prescription being used as proof against Jolly Joseph, claiming that she bought “dog kill” for the murder, had been actually purchased by another woman by the same first name. The court document reads: “The counsel also submitted that the other evidence produced by the prosecution is that one Jolly Davagiri purchased 'Dog Kill' based on a prescription obtained from Government Veterinary Hospital at Kozhikode on 27.6.2002. Thereafter, it is alleged by the prosecution that the petitioner obtained Dog Kill from a distributor. The counsel submitted that either the doctors of the Veterinary Hospital or other staff members of the said hospital did not identify the petitioner. The alleged supplier also was not able to identify the petitioner. Therefore, the counsel submitted that simply because a 'DOG KILL' is purchased by one Jolly Devagiri based on a prescription dated 27.6.2002 from Government Veterinary Hospital, the same is not a piece of evidence to connect the petitioner to the alleged murder of Annamma Thomas. The counsel submitted that simply because there are some other cases pending against the petitioner, this court may not dismiss this bail application.”

Following this, the court said that the confession statement of an accused may not be admissible as evidence legally and the general public may suspect the judiciary when a court of law decides based on legal evidence.

In 2019, it was an investigation into a complaint filed by the brother of Roy Thomas (Jolly Joseph’s former husband) that had unraveled a series of shocking murders in the state. An undercover investigation in 2019 and 2020, had alleged that Joseph prepared a false will to extort property, followed by sudden and mysterious deaths in the family.