NEW DELHI Five men accused of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in December will be formally charged in court on Saturday, setting the stage for the start of their trial, a defence lawyer said.
The case brought thousands of protesters onto the streets and ignited intense public debate over the failure of the police and the government to stem rampant violence against women in India.
A strictly enforced media blackout on the court proceedings means there will likely be few details about the trial, leaving many with unanswered questions about an attack that was shocking in its brutality.
The student was tortured with an iron rod and raped on a moving bus in the capital on December 16. She was then thrown bleeding onto the street along with a male friend who was also beaten. She died of organ failure in a Singapore hospital two weeks later.
Prosecutors say they have a large file of evidence, including DNA from blood-stained clothing recovered by police.
The five accused will plead not guilty to rape and murder, one of the defence lawyers said. Defence counsel have told Reuters they will argue that the DNA evidence was fabricated and at least two of the accused will say they made confessions after they were tortured in custody.
The five, who police say range in age from 19 to 34, have been appearing in court almost daily for pre-trial hearings on the framing of the charges. They arrived at court on Wednesday wearing scarves to conceal their faces.
Defence lawyer A.P. Singh, who represents two of the accused, said the court would begin formally charging the five men on Saturday. The prosecution wants the men tried for rape, kidnapping, murder and robbery, among other charges.
The court may not complete the process on Saturday and could continue on Monday, Singh said. The trial would begin immediately afterwards.
The trial will be conducted in a special fast-track court that was set up after the attack. The court is across the street from a cinema where the victim watched the movie "Life of Pi" before boarding the bus with her friend.
The proceedings will take place behind closed doors to protect the identity of the victim. The judge has also issued gag orders on defence lawyers and the media, warning them not to repeat anything said in court.
A sixth accused will be tried as a juvenile in a separate court, a special panel ruled this week after it accepted school records showing him to be 17 years old. If convicted the teenager would receive a maximum of three years in jail.
(This story has been refiled to fix a rogue word in the sixth paragraph)
(Reporting By Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Ross Colvin; Editing by Robert Birsel)