September 16, 2013 — Four men who were convicted of the gang rape and murder of a New Delhi, India, woman were sentenced to death by an Indian court on Friday, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Rawat/Daigle, AP/Contra Costa Times, 9/13).
The men had pleaded not guilty in February to all 13 charges against them, including gang rape, murder, kidnapping and conspiracy (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/5).
Judge Yogesh Khanna issued the decision, saying that the brutal attack "shocked the collective conscience" of the country. He added that in times "when crime against women is on the rise, the courts cannot turn a blind eye toward such gruesome crimes" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 9/13). After he signed the ruling, the judge broke the tip of the pen to signal that he hoped he would never again need to impose the sentence (McCarthy, "All Things Considered," NPR, 9/13).
The sentence must be confirmed by the country's High Court, and the men can appeal the case to both the High Court and the Supreme Court. They can also seek clemency from the president. India's Supreme Court allows the death penalty only in "the rarest of rare cases" but does not offer clarity on what constitutes such cases.
Stemming from pressure following the crime, the Congress party-led national government passed a series of reforms on sexual violence (AP/Contra Costa Times, 9/13). Among other provisions, the laws mandate that female police officers be present to help interview rape victims; allow the death penalty in cases where the victim dies or is left in a vegetative state; and make crimes such as voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and sex trafficking punishable under criminal law (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/5).
The men's lawyer -- A.P. Singh -- said that Khanna gave "the death sentence under political pressure" and "the government's insistence."
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde applauded the ruling, saying that "the judge has set an example for anti-social elements that they would meet a similar fate if they committed such crimes" (AP/Contra Cost Times, 9/13).