NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Five men accused of the gang rape and murder of an Indian student appeared in court on Monday to hear charges against them, after two of them offered evidence possibly in return for a lighter sentence.
The five men, along with a teenager, are accused of raping the 23-year-old physiotherapy student during a hour-long bus journey in New Delhi. She died two weeks later on December 28 in a Singapore hospital.
The attack on the student has provoked widspread protests against the government and anger towards the police for their perceived failure to protect women, and rare national debate about violence against women.
Reuters images showed the men stepping out of a blue police van that brought them from Tihar jail, and walking through a metal detector into the South Delhi court for the hearing.
The men are due to appear before a judge and be read the charges against them in a procedural step before a trial date is set.
Two of the accused, Vinay Sharma and Pawan Gupta, moved an application on Saturday requesting they be made “approvers”, or informers, against the other accused, a public prosecutor in the case, Rajiv Mohan, told Reuters.
Sharma and Gupta, along with co-accused Mukesh Kumar, Ram Singh and Akshay Thakur, have already been charged with murder, rape and abduction along with other offences. Prosecutor Mohan told Reuters he was seeking the death sentence in the case given the “heinous” nature of the crime.
“The five accused persons deserve not less than the death penalty,” he said. His views echoing public sentiment and calls from the victim’s family.
Members of the bar association in Saket district, where the case is being heard, have vowed not to represent them. Ahead of Monday’s court appearance, the five were still believed to be without defense lawyers despite extensive interrogations by the police, who have said they have recorded confessions.
Supreme Court lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma stood up to offer representation to the men and was booed by other lawyers in the packed courtroom, where media and advocates gathered before the men were due to appear.
The men, most of them from a slum neighborhood, will be offered legal aid by the court before the trial can begin in a fast track tribunal set up after the December 16 attack on the woman.
Some legal experts warn their lack of representation could give grounds for appeal later should they be found guilty - similar cases have resulted in acquittals years after convictions.
The sixth member of the gang that lured the student and a male friend into the private bus is under 18 and will be tried in a separate juvenile court.
The government is aiming to lower the age teenagers can be tried as an adult, given widespread public anger that the boy will face a maximum three year sentence.
Reporting By Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Ron Popeski and Robert Birsel