NEW DELHI -The four men accused in the gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student have been given the death sentence on Friday, bringing to an end the most closely watched trial in India.
The verdict triggered applause outside the packed courtroom in the Indian capital as well as outside the court complex where crowds had gathered amid tight security.
Mukesh Singh, 26, Pawan Gupta, 19, Vinay Sharma, 20 and Akshay Thakur, 28, were given the capital punishment by Judge Yogesh Khanna who said that the crime fell in the "rarest of rare" category, which means the most brutal of crimes.
"It shocked the collective consciousness of society,'' said the judge.
Vinay Sharma broke down as the death sentence was announced.
The death penalty verdict now needs to be upheld by the Delhi High Court, Supreme Court and President before it can be carried out.
"My daughter has got justice,'' said the father of the victim, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his late daughter. He was in the courtroom with his wife and sons.
One of the victim's brothers said: "We have got some peace.''
The judge had found the four men guilty based on the woman's dying statement, forensic evidence and DNA reports.
Defence lawyers said they would appeal the verdict in the Delhi High Court within the month.
The sentence on Friday comes two days after the court found the four guilty on a dozen charges, ranging from rape, murder, kidnapping to robbery and destruction of evidence.
The prosecution in the case had argued for the death penalty.
"This was the most grotesque, diabolical and barbaric crime. The accused do not have a chance to reform. Society feels women are not safe,'' prosecution lawyer Dayan Krishan told the court on Wednesday.
A fifth attacker, who was 17 years old at the time of the gang rape, was convicted last month and sentenced to just three years in a correctional facility - the maximum allowed by law.
A sixth defendant and the alleged ring leader committed suicide in March in his cell.
There had been a huge clamour for the four men to be executed for their attack on the student and her male companion on the night of Dec 16.
The woman and her friend had boarded a private bus to go home when they were attacked by the six accused. The attackers then threw the woman and her friend out of the bus and tried to run over them but failed.
The woman died from massive internal injuries two weeks later at Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
The brutality of the crime shook the country and put an unprecedented spotlight on sexual crimes, with middle class Indians taking to the streets to protest the lack of safety for women.
A total of 1,036 cases of rape have been reported in Delhi alone so far this year. This is a significant increase from the 450 recorded in the same period last year, suggesting greater willingness by victims to come forward after the December bus attack.