Defendant in India gang-rape trial changes testimony

Mukesh Singh says he was driving the bus and was unaware of the brutal attack, which shocked a nation

A defendant in the case of the gang rape and murder of a young Indian woman on a bus last December has changed his story, a US newspaper has reported.

Mukesh Singh, 22, had hitherto told police he wasn't present at the attack on an unnamed 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, he has now said he was actually driving the bus, because his brother - who also stood accused until he died in March - was too drunk to drive.

Mr Singh says he was unaware of the brutal attack taking place while he drove, but was able to identify his co-defendants as passengers on the bus that night. They all deny having been there, and have offered various alibis.

The rape sent waves of protest across India, with the public angered by a perceived lack of action from authorities against sexual violence.

Doctors who treated the victim until her death two weeks after the ordeal said they had never seen injuries so severe from such an attack.

She and her male companion had been to see Life of Pi at the cinema, and mistakenly boarded a private bus thinking it was normal public transport.

Police said the men on the bus then gang-raped the woman and beat her and her companion with iron rods as the vehicle drove through the city for hours. It was later revealed the bus had driven through several police check-points. The male companion survived.

Four adult defendants face charges including gang rape, murder and kidnapping - charges which might get them the death penalty, if they are found guilty.

A fifth defendant, aged 17 at the time, is being tried in a juvenile court. The sixth, Mr Singh's 33-year-old brother Ram Singh, was found hanged in his cell in March. Prison bosses said an investigation suggested he had hanged himself, but his family have insisted he was murdered.

All defendants plead not guilty.

According to a transcript seen by the Journal, Mr Singh said: "I had not heard any cries since the driver's cabin was closed at that time." The bus had a separate compartment for the driver, but police said it has a window and is not soundproof.

He said his now deceased brother - who worked as a school bus driver - had called him on the night of the alleged attack to drive the men from the Munirka suburb to the slum where the men live, because he was too drunk to do so himself.

He said he cycled to Munirka, where he found his brother and the other four defendants drunk on the bus, and described where they were sitting.

According to the testimony, he said an argument started between the men and the victim's friend, whom they picked up at a stop around 9pm.

Someone "put off the lights inside the bus," Mr. Singh said, according to the transcript. "Thereafter I do not know what they have done."

A.P. Singh (no relation), a lawyer who represents two of the other accused, said: "His statement has messed up everything."

Speculating that the defendant might be seeking leniency from the prosecution, Mr Singh said: "One hundred per cent, he has been promised a lighter sentence. Something fishy is going on."

Mr Singh's lawyer denies this. A verdict is expected next month.

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