New Delhi, Sept. 10: A single, muffled cry from one of the accused broke the silence as the judge pronounced all the four men lined up against the wall guilty of 13 charges, including gang rape and murder.
A tearful Pawan Gupta, 19, then turned to Mukesh Singh, 29, a co-accused in the December 16 gang-rape case who tried to console him, whispering: “Yeh toh hona hi tha (this was inevitable).”
Mukesh then gazed long at his parents, huddled in one corner of the courtroom, and folded his hands.
Additional sessions judge Yogesh Khanna, who had acquitted all the accused in the previous 32 rape trials he had conducted, will hear arguments on sentencing tomorrow.
The convicts can face the noose if their crime, during which they brutalised the victim with an iron rod causing most of her bowels to spill out, is deemed to qualify as the “rarest of the rare”.
|convicted: The four men convicted of the December 16 gang rape and murder
AKSHAY THAKUR, 28
Married with a two-year-old son. Worked as Ram’s helper. Earlier employed in a liquor factory and a brick kiln.
Wife Punita had said that
if found guilty, he should
be “shot dead”
Kept his head bowed, could be seen
choking back tears
VINAY SHARMA, 20
Denied being on the bus. A helper at a local
gym and a neighbour of Mukesh and Ram. Only
accused to have cleared school. Said during trial he wanted to appear for an air force recruitment test. Suffered a fracture in left hand in custody,
apparently because of assault by inmates
Looked agitated, seemed
as if he wanted to tell the court something.
Kept glancing at the judge as the guilty
verdicts were pronounced
PAWAN GUPTA, 19
Fruit seller and
friend of Ram.
the four adult
Broke down, tears
as the verdict was read out
Many outside the Saket court rued that the recently passed Criminal Law (Amendment) Act would not apply retrospectively to the case. The minimum jail term for gang rape is 10 years under the old law and 20 years under the new. The new law has a provision for the death sentence if rape leads to loss of life.
Judge Khanna, delivering the rape convictions less than nine months after the crime, said the accused had murdered “a helpless person”. The bestiality of the accused, the judge said, established that they had the “intention to kill” the girl.
Courtroom No. 304 was packed today while hundreds stood in the corridor outside, expecting a guilty verdict and the death penalty.
Inside, the victim’s family sat in the second-last row, with Mukesh’s parents at an angle behind them.
“I shall be happy only when the court pronounces that these four should be hanged till they die,” said the victim’s mother who sat upright through the 10-minute proceedings, looking neither at the accused nor their families.
She had expressed bitter disappointment on August 31 when the youngest of the six accused, who was a minor during the crime, was handed just a three-year term under juvenile justice laws. One of the five adult accused committed suicide in jail.
“Let the punishment be such that it instils fear in people, so they think twice before perpetrating any heinous act on any woman,” the mother said today.
However, closure may still be far off for her as the convicts plan to appeal in the high court after the sentences are announced.
Mukesh’s parents told this correspondent that the wait for the sentencing — which may or may not happen tomorrow — “is killing them (the accused)”.
Judge Khanna, who heard 85 prosecution and 17 defence witnesses through 130-odd hearings over seven months, pronounced the judgment in a low voice. Many, including the victim’s parents, didn’t seem to catch his words clearly and asked those nearby for clarifications.
“Can you tell us what the judge said? Has he found them guilty on all counts?” said the victim’s brother, who had stared straight at the accused through the proceedings.
A police officer stood nearby to pre-empt any repeat of August 31 when the brother had lunged at the accused in the juvenile court.
After the verdict, Mukesh’s mother, a frail woman in a peach and pink sari, fell to the floor crying outside the court and clutched the feet of his lawyer V.K. Anand. The defence lawyers claimed their clients were “innocent”.
“This is a clear case for acquittal but because of political pressure, and because the accused are poor and powerless, they have been convicted,” said one of them, A.P. Singh.
Three accused — Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma and Pawan — had produced alibis to try and prove they were not on the bus but elsewhere on the night of the crime. The prosecution had cited DNA evidence and bite marks on the victim’s body to contest the claim.
Judge Khanna said he had relied in part on the victim’s dying declaration in finding the men guilty.
Mukesh admitted to being on the bus but denied raping or attacking the 23-year-old trainee paramedic and her male friend whom the accused had tricked into boarding the bus they had taken out for a spin.
“As Mukesh has come out with all cleanness and all fairness and admitted his presence at the spot, he must get some leniency because he has helped the law,” his lawyer, Anand, said.
Senior Supreme Court lawyer K.V. Dhananjay said the “rarest of the rare” criterion — which the Supreme Court devised 32 years ago — was mired in ambiguity and doubt. “The Supreme Court itself has expressed concern… it (the criterion) has not been well understood. It is very subjective,” Dhananjay said.
“No other country has been able to justify the death penalty on this count. This is why many European countries have abolished capital punishment.”
The case had spurred street protests in cities, the public pressure helping speed up the tightening of the anti-rape law.
Gender crimes continue unabated, although the case has helped break the silence around such crimes. In a coincidence, the chargesheet in the Kamduni gang rape-and-murder case in Bengal was filed today.