India rape trial star witness cross-examined

Indian defence lawyers begin cross-examining an eyewitness to the gang-rape that killed a 23-year-old woman student in December as a special trial continues in New Delhi.

Warning: this story contains graphic details

An Indian police carries the five men accused of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student to the site of a special trial in New Delhi. Today the court heard from a man who claims to be an eyewitness to the attack. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Indian defence lawyers began cross-examining a man who claims to be an eyewitness to the gang-rape that killed a 23-year-old woman student in December, as a special trial continued in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The special court — which is under a media blackout — heard testimony from a 28-year-old software engineer who said he was with the woman at the movie Life of Pi  the evening of the incident.

The male witness, who cannot be identified, previously told an Indian television channel Zee News that he was beaten with a metal rod and restrained while the woman was raped. When the attackers dumped their bodies onto the side of the road, he said, police delayed taking the woman to the hospital and passers-by refused to stop and help.

Inside the court, lawyers argued over whether what the witness told the media can be used in the trial. Ajay Prakash Singh, lawyer for two of the six accused men, told reporters gathered outside the court that he will resume cross-examining the witness on Thursday.

"The star witness, who is also the complainant in the case, mentioned and admitted to certain things during his interviews and we will see what he says over here," said Singh.

"Whatever the police hide, we bring it to the fore, and that is our defence."

Vinay Sharma, a gym assistant, Ram Singh, the bus driver, his brother Mukesh Singh, Akshay Kumar Singh, a bus cleaner, and Pawan Kumar, a fruit vendor, have been charged with rape, murder and abduction. A sixth man is accused of the same crimes but is being tried separately because he’s a juvenile.

The five men currently on trial have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

The juvenile suspect faces a maximum sentence of three years in a reform facility, the Associated Press reports.

The rape case has sparked nationwide protests and international condemnation of rape’s place in Indian culture. Many are calling for tougher anti-rape laws to be implemented.

With files from The Associated Press