Trial begins for 5 men charged in brutal New Delhi rape
Published Thursday, January 24, 2013 6:13AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 24, 2013 11:01PM EST
The trial of five men charged with the December gang rape and death of a woman on a New Delhi bus began in a closed courtroom Thursday, with the prosecution claiming they have more than enough evidence to convict the men.
Prosecutors began the opening arguments Thursday, but details of the proceedings were not available because the courtroom was closed to the public -- a routine move in rape cases in India.
The lawyers involved have also been instructed to not discuss what transpired inside the fast-track court set up just weeks ago to handle sexual assault cases.
A sixth suspect in the case is expected to be tried in a juvenile court, although there is an ongoing dispute about his actual age.
The next hearing in the case is set for Monday, when the defence will present its opening arguments.
The five accused covered their faces with caps as they walked into the courtroom Thursday, surrounded by armed police. Two hours later, the proceedings ended and the men were whisked away again.
The five face a maximum sentence of death by hanging if convicted of rape and murder. They are accused of luring woman and her male friend onto the bus, beating both with rods, repeatedly raping the woman with the rod in the back of the bus, and then dumping the naked pair on a roadside.
The woman underwent several surgeries but died in a Singapore hospital nearly two weeks later.
Prosecutors say their case will hinge on testimony from the dying woman and her companion, as well as cellphone records.
The trial begins just five weeks after the attack, and already, there are allegations the case has been rushed through to quell the overwhelming public anger about the attack.
At least two of the four defence lawyers insist police rushed the investigation and claim that their clients were tortured while in custody to issue confessions that matched.
After Thursday’s hearing, M.L. Sharma, a defence lawyer for one of the accused, withdrew from the case, saying he was forced to leave in order to save his client from being pressured and tortured into firing him. Sharma has long maintained that the other defence lawyers have been planted by the police to ensure guilty verdicts.
The trial began a day after a government panel recommended India strictly enforce sexual assault laws, commit to holding speedy rape trials and change the penal code to protect women.
The panel was appointed to examine the criminal justice system's handling of violence against women. It says it received 80,000 suggestions from women's groups and thousands of ordinary citizens.
Among the panel's suggestions were the appointment of more judges to help speed up India's judicial process that’s bogged-down with thousands of pending cases.
Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said the government would take the recommendations to the cabinet and parliament.
"Procedural inadequacies that lead to inordinate delays need to be addressed," he told reporters.
With reports from The Associated Press