AFP and AP
NEW DELHI — Prosecutors sought the death sentence Wednesday for four men convicted over the “diabolical” gang rape and murder of a student on a New Delhi bus as the judge set sentencing for later this week.
One of the defendants shouted out his innocence as police drove him into the courthouse. It was not clear which of the four men was shouting, because his face was obscured behind the police van’s heavy metal mesh, but he repeatedly called out, “I am innocent! I am innocent!” as the van drove past a scrum of reporters.
Judge Yogesh Khanna heard three hours of arguments from prosecution and defense lawyers in his court in the south of India’s capital before announcing he would reserve his judgment until Friday afternoon.
He faces widespread calls from the public, the victim’s family and politicians to hand down the death sentence, which can be given for “the rarest of rare” crimes but is seldom carried out in practice. “The court should give the maximum sentence otherwise the message will go to society that deviance of this nature will be tolerated,” special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan told the packed court. “The test is, was the collective conscience shocked? There can be no better example than this case,” he said, calling the crime “diabolical” in which “no element of sympathy” had been shown to the victim. “The sentence which is appropriate is nothing short of death,” he added. The four convicts — Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh — were led into court by armed police and stood and occasionally sat at the back of the court wearing T-shirts and displaying little emotion. The mother of the victim could be seen seated next to her husband a few meters in front of the men as she listened intently to proceedings while dressed in a green saree. “We raised our daughter with great love and care,” she told reporters at the end of the hearing. “We beg the court that justice should be given to our daughter. It was not merely a mistake, they planned and killed her mercilessly.” The defense lawyers acting for the men argued that there was political pressure for an execution while urging the judge to show leniency in awarding life imprisonment. “The court must bear in mind that life imprisonment is the rule and the death sentence is the exception,” Vivek Sharma, a lawyer for Gupta, who was 19 at the time of the crime, argued. He said Sharma’s “tender age” meant that he could be reformed — an argument also taken up by A.P. Singh who said his client, 20-year-old gym assistant Vinay Sharma, had dreams of joining the air force. V.K Anand, acting for Mukesh Singh, said the part-time laborer and bus driver had shown good conduct throughout the trial and was drunk at the time of the crime. Half a dozen protesters shouted insults at the lawyer as he left the court and tried to grab him.