By Sanjeev Miglani and Suchitra Mohanty/ Reuters
New Delhi: A DNA investigation of bloodstained clothes and body swabs has linked all five men and a juvenile accused of the gang rape and murder of a woman in New Delhi to the crime, providing evidence the prosecution claims will be enough to convict them.
Prosecutors say their case will also hinge on cellphone records and on testimony from the dying woman and a male companion who was attacked with her on a moving bus in the capital on December 16.
However, the case against the men may not be open and shut in a country where shoddy forensic practices are one of the chief reasons for a low conviction rate in rape trials.
Defence lawyers told Reuters they were preparing to reject the forensic findings as fabricated.
They said they would also contend that the case is unsafe because police rushed investigations after an outpouring of popular fury over the attack. Two of the four defence lawyers have said their clients were tortured in custody to make confessions that looked suspiciously similar.
“The statements all read the same. It is like somebody has dictated it to them,” lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma told Reuters.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the confessions, saying it was policy not to respond to reported allegations.
“We have no comment to make on media reports. If anything has to be communicated, it will done in the appropriate court,” he said. “We are not going to engage in a debate in the media.”
Another official said the men had to undergo medical tests in custody and if they were beaten, it would have shown up; and if the lawyers were serious about the allegations, they should approach the court rather than air views in the media.
The defence will also argue that the men were denied legal aid for more than three weeks after their arrest and point to discrepancies in the account given by the woman’s friend.
DNA SAMPLES – FROM CLOTHES TO DRIED LEAVES
A fast-track court will on Monday begin hearings in the case just five weeks after the attack, which brought thousands of protesters on to the streets of New Delhi and made headlines around the globe.
Police said the 23-year-old physiotherapy student and her friend were lured into the bus, both were beaten and then the woman was taken to the rear of the bus and raped. They were then thrown, bleeding, on to a dark roadside. The woman died in a Singapore hospital nearly two weeks later.
While the five men have been charged with rape and murder and face the death penalty if convicted, the juvenile will be tried separately. He will not be charged until police confirm he is under 18.
The forensic report found that DNA tests on bloodstains from underwear worn by the main accused, Ram Singh, matched those of the woman. Another test done on a swab taken from her body showed his DNA signature, according to a laboratory report seen by Reuters.
A lawyer for Singh dismissed the results as manipulated and demanded that the case be heard in a court away from New Delhi, where pressure for a conviction is intense.
“The Delhi police are biased. This case must be taken away from Delhi,” lawyer VK Anand said.
The other lawyer, Sharma, has filed a petition before the Supreme Court separately, asking for the case to be transferred out of New Delhi to ensure a free and fair trial.
The police spokesman declined to comment on the lawyers’ claim that a fair trial was not possible in New Delhi.
The DNA samples were taken from bloodstains on clothes of all five accused, curtains and seats on the bus. Samples were also taken from bloodstained dried leaves by the side of the highway where the pair said they were dumped.