MEERUT, India -- A teenager was sentenced to three years in juvenile detention Saturday in the fatal December gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, a case that fueled heated debate in India over whether minors should be tried as adults in serious cases.
According to police, five men and the juvenile, who was 17 at the time, lured the student and her male companion onto an off-duty bus, assaulted both of them with iron bars and raped her repeatedly while driving around New Delhi before tossing them naked onto the road. Neither the juvenile nor the woman, who died of internal injuries two weeks later, have been publicly named in keeping with Indian law.
The case focused global attention on the treatment of women in India and led to weeks of protests domestically, as well an accelerated court procedure for sex crime cases. It also sparked an impassioned debate over whether juveniles are being let off too lightly in certain brutal cases.
While four men charged in the case could face the death penalty, the teenage defendant received the maximum sentence of 36 months in a juvenile reform facility. He will be freed in a little more than two years, including time served. The verdicts in the case of the four men are expected within the next few weeks. A fifth man suspected in the case, allegedly the ring leader, was found hanged in his jail cell in March.
"The juvenile has been found guilty under rape and murder charges, and accordingly sentenced to three years," Rajesh Tiwari, a lawyer representing the juvenile, told reporters.
The victim's family expressed outrage Saturday at the sentence. "He should have been given the death penalty," said the victim's brother, requesting anonymity, adding that the family would request an appeal. "This is a battle, and we are prepared to fight."
The defendant, who turned 18 in June, pleaded not guilty to all 13 charges he faced, including murder, rape and robbery. The media were not permitted to attend or report on the trial to safeguard the juvenile's identity. TV video showed the suspect emerge from a blue police van and head into the court, wearing a dirty white long-sleeve shirt, gray pants and a peach-colored scarf over his face.
The teenager reportedly left home at the age of 11, got work in a low-end restaurant and then drifted, washing buses and collecting fares. His mother reportedly told police she thought he was dead before hearing about his arrest.