Ram Singh, accused of leading five others in fatal attack on woman, has been found hanged in jail cell.
The man accused of leading five others in the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapist in Delhi in December 2012 has been found dead in the high-security prison where he was being held during his trial.
The attack in the Indian capital prompted global outrage, protests across India and calls for deep legal and policing reforms. It also led to a fierce debate over attitudes to women as a factor contributing to the wave of sexual violence against women that has hit the country in recent years.
Ram Singh, 34, was on trial with five others at a specially established fast track court in Delhi and faced the death sentence. The trial opened in February but there have recently been delays. Singh was found hanged by his own clothes and a prison blanket at 5am, officials at Delhi's Tihar jail have said. An inquiry is under way.
There was shock in India at the news and fierce criticism of prison authorities. Relatives of the victims said they were disappointed that Singh, a bus driver with a history of hard drinking, had apparently been allowed to take his own life.
"He knew he was going to die anyway because we had and still have such a strong case against him," the murdered woman's 20-year-old brother told the Reuters news agency.
"I'm not very thrilled with the news that he killed himself because I wanted him to be hanged ... publicly. Him dying on his own terms seems unfair. But, oh well, one is down. Hopefully the rest will wait for their death sentence."
The assault took place on the bus Singh drove for a living. The victim and a 28-year-old male friend boarded the vehicle on a Sunday evening as they returned from seeing a film. They had believed the bus to be one of the many unlicensed carriers that fill the gaps left by Delhi's inadequate public transport system. The pair were however attacked with an iron rod and the woman repeatedly raped. After almost an hour they were pushed from the moving bus on to a roadside near the city's airport. The woman died later of massive
internal injuries sustained during the assault.
The accused adults in the case – along with a 17-year-old – were swiftly detained for their alleged roles in the attack, which took place on 16 December 2012. The minor is appearing in a separate court.
Singh's lawyer said he had been murdered in prison, possibly by the police. "What do you mean killed himself? He has been killed in prison," said defence counsel AP Singh.
Lawyers for the accused have claimed that their clients have been repeatedly attacked by other inmates in prison and were tortured by police.
Investigators say there is a very strong prosecution case with 80 witnesses, DNA evidence and statements from both victims.
Singh's younger brother, Mukesh, is among the accused. The pair had been living in a slum neighbourhood in the south of Delhi at the time of the attack. They had been joined by a fruit seller and a part-time gym assistant, a former colleague and the juvenile, who was an illiterate drifter, on a "joy ride" after hours of heavy drinking on the evening of the assault. They had come across the woman and her friend by chance, statements from two of the accused claim.