NEW DELHI, Sept 10: An Indian court convicted four men on Tuesday of the gang rape and “cold-blooded” murder of a student on a New Delhi bus in a crime that sickened the nation and led to new laws to tackle endemic sex crime.

Judge Yogesh Khanna said the men, who could now face the death penalty, were guilty of murdering a “helpless victim” last December, as he announced that arguments for sentencing of the four would be held on Wednesday.

“I convict all of the accused,” Mr Khanna told a packed court room. “They have been found guilty of gang rape, unnatural offences, destruction of evidence ... and for committing the murder of the helpless victim.” The four — Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, aged between 19 and 29 at the time of the crime — had all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The men, whose faces were shown by the media for the first time on Tuesday, were economic migrants living in or around a south Delhi slum who were drawn to the city to escape grinding rural poverty.

The victim’s parents, who wept in court as the verdict was announced, have led the calls for them to be hanged, saying that they would only find closure if the four are executed.

Their 23-year-old daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, died of grievous internal injuries on December 29 in a Singapore hospital after being lured on to the private bus following a cinema trip with a male companion.

After beating up the friend, the gang brutally assaulted her behind tinted windows for 45 minutes before flinging the bloodied and barely conscious couple from the vehicle on a road leading to the international airport.

Lawyers for three of the convicts said they would appeal the verdict while the fourth was considering his options.

“My client was simply driving the bus. He confessed fairly that he was driving the bus but he did not know what went on inside,” V. K. Anand, the lawyer for Mukesh Singh, told journalists.

It was not clear when the four would be sentenced.

A. P. Singh, the lawyer for Akshay Thakur and Vinay Sharma, called the verdict a “political conviction” and said they would appeal, which is likely to take years in India’s notoriously slow legal system.

Mukesh Singh’s mother, draped in a beige sari, fell to Anand’s feet and broke down in tears outside the courtroom.

A juvenile has already been sentenced to three years in a correctional facility, while a fifth adult defendant, bus driver Ram Singh, was found hanging in his prison cell in March while awaiting trial.—AFP

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