- Four accused in case that gripped nation have had death sentences upheld
- Upheld High Court judgment had been largely expected
- Public interest and severity of crime cited as reasons for upholding death penalty
- Accused have dwindling opportunities for appeal
Four men accused in a rape trial that has both shocked and gripped India had their appeals for clemency quashed Thursday, as the victim's family welcomed the judgment.
The four were initially sentenced to death last September for the rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman -- who cannot be identified -- in December 2012. The case appalled the nation, leading to a strengthening of the country's laws protecting women.
Two female judges, Justices Reva Khetrapal and Pratibha Rani of the High Court of Delhi upheld the death penalty for four of the six men, Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh. A fifth, Ram Singh, hanged himself while in custody last year and the sixth, a minor when the crime was committed, was sentenced to a maximum of three years in a juvenile facility.
"We have got full faith in the judiciary. We had expected this verdict. But the ultimate satisfaction will be when the convicts meet their ultimate fate," the victim's mother told reporters outside the High Court.
"My family ... we are quite happy with the decision. We are all accepting this (ruling). It will change some things in India. It will lead to a good change in India," the brother of the victim told CNN by phone.
Campaigners and the victim's family are also seeking the death penalty for the youngest of the accused. "He has got only three years. It's not enough. Almost all Indians want to see (the death penalty) for him," he said.
Death penalty rare
The death penalty is upheld in India for only the "rarest of the rare" cases. Given the severity of the crime and the unprecedented public interest, the court has decided that it falls within these limits.
"It was expected that High Court would uphold the verdict, otherwise there would have been a lot of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in the country (due to) the gruesomeness of the case," Ranjana Kumari, President of Women Power Connect, a coalition of women's rights organizations, told CNN.
Even though Kumari is opposed to the death penalty, she said that "in this particular case I think it called for something more severe, and I think this is what has been given."
In upholding the sentence, the High Court's judgment stated, "a strong message needs to be sent to the perpetrators of grotesque and ghastly crimes against women that such crimes shall not be countenanced."
Given the public interest in the case, the judges also stated that they upheld the sentence as an "exemplary punishment" in the hope of stemming the "rising trend" of sexual assault in India.
The accused are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. If this is also unsuccessful, they are entitled to file a petition for presidential mercy to commute their death sentence to life imprisonment.