NEW DELHI (AFP) – A judge will hand down the verdict Tuesday on four men accused of the fatal gang-rape of an Indian student on a bus, which could see the defendants sentenced to death.
The parents of the popular physiotherapy student have been at the forefront of calls for the four to be hanged over the December 16 attack in New Delhi which triggered mass protests as well as new anti-rape laws.
Their 23-year-old daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, died of her injuries on December 29 in a Singapore hospital.
The four men, Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, have all pleaded not guilty to the charges which include murder, rape and theft.
A juvenile has already been jailed for three years, while a fifth adult defendant, bus driver Ram Singh, was found hanging in his prison cell in March while awaiting trial.
The seven-month trial has been held in a special fast-track court in south Delhi, with more than 100 witnesses called to give evidence, including 85 for the prosecution.
The presiding judge Yogesh Khanna said last week that he would deliver his verdict on September 10 after dismissing requests from defence lawyers for more time.
But last-minute legal challenges could still delay Tuesday's verdict. The sentence against the juvenile was deferred four times before being handed down.
During the trial, the prosecution laid out evidence against the four accused, including DNA, statements from a male companion who was beaten up during the attack, as well as the victim's dying testimony.
The victim and her companion had spent the evening watching a movie at a mall in south Delhi when they were picked up by a bus.
But rather than take them home, the group are alleged to have then subjected the pair to a horrifying 45-minute ordeal which ended with both of them thrown out of the bus, virtually unconscious and naked.
In an interview ahead of the verdict, the 28-year-old companion told AFP that the assault was beyond nightmares.
"I never imagined that one human being could treat another so badly," he told AFP.
The student's family were bitterly disappointed with the three-year sentence handed down last month on the youngest defendant, the maximum allowed by law as he was only 17 at the time of the attack.
The victim's father has said the family will only get some sense of closure if the four remaining defendants are ordered to be hanged.
While the judge should hand down his verdict on Tuesday, the actual sentence may not follow for a few days.
"We will not accept anything below the death penalty," the father told AFP from his home in southwestern Delhi in an interview last week.
"Anything other than the gallows for these men will not be right. It would send out the wrong message, people will lose trust in our judicial system."
He added: "If all four are sentenced to death, I can't imagine anything being better than that. Nothing could get better ... We will get closure."
The attack sparked weeks of sometimes violent street protests across India amid seething public anger about sex crimes against women.
It also led to tougher laws for sex offenders, including the death penalty for rapists whose victims die or are left in a vegetative state.
But savage attacks against women are still reported daily in India's newspapers and the gang-rape of a photographer last month near an upmarket area of Mumbai rekindled public disgust.