NEW DELHI (AFP) – The judge in the trial of four men accused of the fatal gang-rape of a student on a New Delhi bus last December announced Tuesday he would deliver his verdicts on September 10.
The trial began in a “fast-track” court in the capital in February with the prosecution laying out evidence against the suspects, including DNA, witness statements and dying testimony from the victim.
The case horrified India and brought simmering anger about endemic sex crimes to the boil, sparking street protests and a toughening of sentences for rapists.
Dismissing pleas for more time by defence lawyers, Judge Yogesh Khanna told them: “You’ve delayed this trial far enough. My judgement will come on the 10th.”
The first verdict came on Saturday in a juvenile court where a teenager, aged 17 at the time of the assault, was found guilty and sentenced to three years in a detention centre.
The four adult suspects could face the death penalty if convicted of the most serious charges against them, which include murder, gang-rape and theft.
The 23-year-old victim was repeatedly raped and violated with an iron rod after being lured onto a private bus following a cinema trip with a male friend.
“I am grateful to your lordship for conducting this trial,” Dayan Krishnan, special public prosecutor, told the court on Tuesday. “I am also grateful to the defence team, which took almost 130 days on this.”
Outside the courtroom, Krishnan regretted that the trial had taken seven months to conclude.
The four accused sat in the back row of the small courtroom, listening intently to proceedings. They have all pleaded not guilty and have accused the police of torturing them.
The men — Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma — range in age from 35 to 19 and were mostly residents of a Delhi slum.
A fifth defendant, the driver of the bus and alleged attack leader Ram Singh, was found dead in his jail cell in March in an apparent suicide.
After the judge announced the date of judgement, members of the prosecution team shook hands and congratulated each other.
The prosecution wrapped up its arguments at the end of last month, stating it had presented a “complete and comprehensive case” that proved “beyond reasonable doubt” that the accused were guilty.
The woman’s male friend, who was with her in the bus and was severely beaten during the attack, is the prime witness in the case and has taken part in an identification parade.
The closing arguments by defence lawyers have mainly focused on how evidence could have been planted to incriminate their clients.
A.P. Singh, counsel for two of the accused, also pointed to “several inconsistencies” in statements made to police by the victim.
Singh has also accused the victim’s friend of being an “unreliable witness” and called his account of the incident “nothing but a bundle of lies”.
The mother of one of the accused, Vinay Sharma, told AFP she had faith in the legal system and was hopeful her 20-year-old son would be freed.
“My son has been wrongly implicated in this case,” she told AFP outside the courtroom.
“I still have hope and faith in God and our legal system. I am confident the judge will give out a just verdict,” she said.