Court appoints lawyers for five accused of gang rape and murder of New Delhi woman
By Rama Lakshmi,
NEW DELHI — Police manipulated evidence against the men accused of raping and killing a young woman in the Indian capital last month and even beat one suspect to extract a confession, a defense attorney said Thursday, blaming public pressure to secure a quick conviction and the death penalty for the alleged perpetrators.
A district court in New Delhi on Thursday appointed attorneys for five of the accused, despite calls by some bar associations to boycott the men, who were charged with rape, murder, abduction and robbery last week.
The defendants, under heavy police security, were produced for the second time in court. The media have been barred from attending and reporting the proceedings because of the sensitive nature of the case.
The horrific gang rape of the woman aboard a bus on Dec. 16 fueled a national uproar, prompting police to move with uncommon speed and arrest six suspects, including the driver. One of the suspects, who is a teenager, will be tried separately by a juvenile court. The victim died late last month.
The next hearing is scheduled for Monday, when the trial is likely to be sent to a special fast-track court, an unusual move in India’s judicial system, where cases often drag on for decades.
But Manohar Lal Sharma, the attorney for one of the accused, said he suspected that the police had manipulated the evidence and taken shortcuts.
“This was done to assuage people’s emotions,” said Sharma, 56, who usually practices in the Supreme Court. “Have you ever heard of our police finishing any investigation and charge sheet in just over a fortnight?”
He said his client, a 22-year-old named Mukesh Singh, who is the brother of the bus driver, Ram Singh, was not on the vehicle when the crime occurred.
“The police have beaten him a lot to extract statements to match their fabricated evidence,” Sharma said. “I will save him at any cost. I will not let the public anger influence me.”
Jail inmates beat up the five suspects when they were first brought in. Now, jail authorities say, the accused are on suicide watch. The juvenile also was beaten by inmates in the correctional facility, media reports said.
Sharma was heckled by members of the Saket Bar Association in the district court Monday when he offered to represent the accused. The association had appealed to its members not to defend the men.
“We are human beings first, and then we are lawyers, let us not forget that,” said Raj Pal Kasana, president of the association, which has 13,000 members. “We will not obstruct fair trial, but we issued an emotional appeal to our members not to defend the accused.”
But Thursday, other lawyers came forward to defend the suspects.
“I support the death penalty for rapists, but I am standing up here for a man who has not yet been proved guilty,” Sharma said. “My friends, families and clients are all against my decision to defend the men. I got threat calls, too. Should we do away with the idea of fair trial and the judiciary because of the public mood? Do they want revenge or justice?”
Sharma asked the court on Thursday to provide a Hindi translation of the 1,000-page charge sheet because his client does not understand English.