India gang rapists could face death as judge mulls sentence

NEW DELHI: An Indian judge will Wednesday consider the sentences for four men found guilty of the brutal gang rape and murder of an Indian student on a bus, as the victim’s family leads calls for them to be hanged.

A day after he handed down his verdicts over a crime that sickened India, Judge Yogesh Khanna will consider arguments from the prosecution and defence counsels over the severity of the punishment.

The 23-year-old victim’s parents have insisted the four must be executed for what the judge branded the “cold-blooded murder” last December of their daughter, who was left with grievous internal injuries.

“The manner (in which) they committed this crime and destroyed a life, they should not get anything less then the death sentence,” the mother of the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told late Tuesday.

Khanna is also under immense public and political pressure to order the death sentence, which can be handed down for “the rarest of rare” crimes but is seldom carried out in practice.

The case brought simmering public anger over rape and harassment to the boil, sparking unprecedented protests, tougher new laws to tackle sex crime and a bout of introspection about India’s treatment of women.

Defence lawyers, who have announced plans to appeal Tuesday’s verdicts, are set to argue that death sentences are not warranted for their clients, who were migrants to New Delhi living around a southern slum.

A lawyer for one of the men, part-time labourer and bus driver Mukesh Singh, said the defence team was “well prepared” to counter the prosecution’s calls for the death sentence.

“In a case where there is a call for the death penalty, then we will argue for an easing of the punishment,” V.K. Anand told.

Lawyers for the three other men — Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma — will also put forward their arguments before the judge at the same courtroom in south Delhi where they were found guilty on Tuesday.

Policemen with batons stood guard outside on Wednesday morning, warning they would not tolerate a repeat of the chaotic scenes of Tuesday when a fight broke out between Indian journalists as they waited for the verdicts.

Vivek Sharma, who is representing Gupta, said the judge should decide in a matter of days, possibly as early as Wednesday.

“If all arguments wrap up tomorrow, then the judge may announce the sentence. If not, it could easily come the day after,” he told.

The judge convicted the men on charges including gang rape, murder and theft

Protesters gathered outside the court on Tuesday to demand the four be hanged, some wearing makeshift nooses.