NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - An Indian teenager pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges that he took part in the gang rape and murder of a trainee physiotherapist in New Delhi, a juvenile justice official said.
Police say the youth and five men on Dec. 16 lured the 23-year-old woman and her male friend onto a bus where they repeatedly raped her and beat her with a metal bar before tossing the bleeding couple on a road.
The woman died of internal injuries two weeks later in Singapore in a case that sparked violent protests and turned a global spotlight on the treatment of women in India.
The 17-year-old defendant has been charged with the same 13 offences as his co-accused, including rape, murder and robbery, by the juvenile court. His trial begins next week.
"The court has framed charges against the boy under relevant sections," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He has pleaded not guilty and claimed trial in the case." The teenager will be tried separately from the other five, whose trial began earlier this month. A Juvenile Justice Board comprising a magistrate and two other members will start hearing the case on Wednesday.
If found guilty, he would face a maximum penalty of three years in juvenile detention, while his adult co-accused could face the death penalty.
Last month, authorities accepted school records showing the juvenile, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, as having been born on June 4, 1995, making him under 18 at the time of the crime.
The panel's decision on the youth's age infuriated many Indians, including protesters, some police and political leaders, who called for the age at which people can be tried as adults to be lowered to 16 from 18. The government ruled out such a move on Wednesday.