“Hamare beti ko insaf zaroor dena”, appealed the mother of the 23-year-old gangrape victim to the judge after she had testified in the trial of the men accused of brutalizing and murdering her daughter.
Today, the judge is expected to deliver his verdict in what has become an iconic case, one that sparked widespread protests in the capital against the continuing failure of the Delhi police to check crimes against women.
Mukesh, Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta are on trial for the gangrape and murder of 23-year-old student and attack on her friend on the night of 16 December, 2012, on a moving bus. She succumbed to her injuries two weeks later at a hospital in Singapore.The accused also face charges that include kidnapping, dacoity with murder, unnatural sexual offences, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence.
It is little more than a week after the first verdict in the case was delivered by the Juvenile Justice Board. On 31 August, a juvenile involved in the case was found guilty of rape and murder and sentenced to three years in a special home. Three years is maximum term that a juvenile offender can be sentenced to under the Juvenile Justice Act.
Expressing deep disappointment with the quantum of sentence to the juvenile, the family of the victim had said they would appeal against it in a higher court. (Read full report here) In conversations with the media, the family has said that it expects nothing less than the death penalty for all of the accused.
The verdict in the case comes close to nine months after the incident.
A long list of 85 prosecution witnesses that included doctors, forensic experts, police officers and telecom company officials, and 17 defence witnesses, most of them alibis, testified during the 127 days of effective hearing before a fast-track court during the last seven months.
The victim’s dying declaration (recorded by a magistrate at the Safdarjung hospital where the victim was admitted) and the eyewitness account of the victim’s friend represent strong prosecution evidence against the accused.
The victim’s friend, who is also the complainant in the case, during his cross-examination, had denied suggestions by the defence that the accused had been framed.
The prosecution has relied heavily on scientific evidence to back their case against the accused. It has argued that DNA samples lifted from the crime scene, iron rod used to attack the victims and clothes of the accused, corroborates their case.
According to the prosecution, this is the first time in a rape case that dental records to match the bite marks on the victim with that of the accused have been submitted as evidence.
Three of the accused - Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta – barring Mukesh, who is the brother of accused Ram Singh, have argued that they were not present on the bus on the night the crime was committed.
Each produced alibis as witnesses who told the court that the accused where at a different place. Akshay Thakur argued that he was not in Delhi, while Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta’s defence was that they were attending a music programme that night.
Mukesh, on the other hand, has admitted to being on the bus but denied raping and attacking the girl and her friend.
Challenging the defence’s case, the prosecution argued that the “inconsistencies in the facts related by the defence witnesses” and the “absence of credible alibis,” had shown their claim that they were not on the bus to be false.
Defence lawyer AP Singh, in his final arguments, accused the Delhi Police of framing the accused and planting evidence on them.
The victim’s statement to the magistrate, Singh argued, was a police fabrication. The victim, he claimed, had died much before she had been officially declared to be dead. (Read full report here)
The trial, which has attracted unprecedented media attention, both national and international, was conducted in-camera for the first few weeks, with the media not being allowed to report on developments. It was, however, opened to the national press by the High Court in March after journalists appealed against the controversial media-ban order.
Not surprisingly, the trial turned defence lawyers into mini-celebrities. Amid allegations and counter-allegations of a ‘police plant’ in the defence team, existing advocates were thrice replaced during the trial.
The trial against a fifth accused, Ram Singh, was abated, after he was found dead in his prison cell in Tihar Central Jail, shortly after the trial began. The unexpected death of an accused in custody rocked the gangrape trial.
Incidentally, days after of the trial began, one of the defence lawyers had petitioned the Supreme Court to transfer the case out of Delhi to ensure security of the accused and in the interest of a fair trial. He was replaced by his client before the petition could be heard.
The news of Ram Singh’s death in prison raised serious questions about prison security. Defence lawyers alleged that their clients been physically and sexually abused in Tihar. The inquiry report into Ram Singh’s alleged suicide is yet to be submitted.
If found guilty, the accused could face the death penalty. Of the charges they face, two of the charges - murder and dacoity with murder – carry a maximum punishment of death.