New Delhi: Three of the suspects in the brutal rape and killing of a young woman on a New Delhi bus will plead not guilty, their lawyer said Thursday, hinting that police had tampered with evidence in the attack that has transfixed India.
"They are innocent," said Manohar Lal Sharma, who said he took the case in part to confront the police over "how manipulated evidence is placed for fixing the innocent people."
He claims he has never heard of a "respected lady" being raped in India and her male companion was "wholly responsible", as the unmarried couple should not have been outside at night.
"Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady," Mr Sharma said.
"Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect."
Five men have been charged with attacking the 23-year-old woman and her male companion on a bus as it was driven through streets of India's capital. The woman was raped and assaulted with a metal bar on Dec. 16 and eventually died of her injuries. Rape victims are not identified in India, even if they die, and rape trials are closed to the media.
Sharma spoke briefly to reporters on his way to a hearing for suspects in a New Delhi court complex. He says he represents bus driver Ram Singh, Singh's brother Mukesh, and another man, Akshay Thakur. Another lawyer, V.K. Anand, says he also represents the two Singh brothers. It's not yet clear if the other defendants have lawyers.
Thursday's hearing is expected to result in the case being sent to a special "fast-track" court. India's legal system is painfully slow, corrupt and inefficient, with many cases lasting years, even decades. But Indian officials have come under immense public pressure over the attack, accused of doing little to protect the country's women, and are eager to make sure the high-profile case moves quickly. Large protests have taken place across India since the attack, with women telling relentless stories of abuse — from catcalls to bus gropings to rapes — and of a police and judicial system that does little to stop it.
Authorities have charged the men with murder, rape and other crimes that could bring the death penalty. A sixth suspect, who is 17 years old, is expected to be tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.
Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan said last week that a DNA test confirmed that the blood of the victim matched blood stains found on the clothes of all the accused.