A judge is due to deliver his verdict on four men accused of the fatal gang-rape of an Indian student, which could see the defendants sentenced to death.

Yogesh Khanna said last week that he would deliver his verdict on September 10 after dismissing requests from defence lawyers for more time.

The parents of the victim, a popular physiotherapy student, have been at the forefront of calls for the defendants to be hanged if found guilty of the December 16 attack in New Delhi, which triggered mass protests as well as new anti-rape laws.

Their 23-year-old daughter, who cannot be named for legal reasons, died of her injuries on December 29 in a Singapore hospital.

The four men, Mukesh Singh, Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta and Vinay Sharma, have all pleaded not guilty to the charges which include murder, rape and theft. 

A juvenile has already been jailed for three years, while a fifth adult defendant, bus driver Ram Singh, was found dead in his prison cell in March while awaiting trial.

The seven-month trial in Delhi has heard more than 100 witnesses, including 85 for the prosecution.

I never imagined that one human being could treat another so badly.

Rape victim's companion.

But last-minute legal challenges could still delay Tuesday's verdict, and the sentence may not follow for a few days. The sentence against the juvenile was deferred four times before being handed down.

During the trial, the prosecution laid out evidence against the four accused, including DNA, statements from a male companion who was beaten up during the attack, as well as the victim's dying testimony.

The victim and her companion had spent the evening watching a movie at a shopping centre in south Delhi when they were picked up by a bus.

But rather than take them home, the group are alleged to have then subjected the pair to a horrifying 45-minute ordeal which ended with both of them thrown out of the bus, unconscious and naked.

In an interview ahead of the verdict, the 28-year-old companion told the AFP news agency that the assault was beyond nightmares. "I never imagined that one human being could treat another so badly," he said.

The victim's father has said the family will only get some sense of closure if the four remaining defendants are ordered to be hanged.

The attack sparked weeks of sometimes violent street protests across India amid seething public anger about sex crimes against women.

It also led to tougher laws for sex offenders, including the death penalty for rapists whose victims die or are left in a vegetative state.

But savage attacks against women are still reported daily in India's newspapers and the gang-rape of a photographer last month near an upmarket area of Mumbai rekindled public disgust.

Source: Agencies