The driver of the bus in which a young Indian woman was gang-raped and fatally injured in December hanged himself in his jail cell on Monday, prison authorities said, but his family and lawyer said they suspected "foul play".
Ram Singh, the main accused in India's most high-profile criminal case, killed himself in a cell he shared with three inmates in New Delhi's Tihar jail, prison spokesman Sunil Gupta said.
Singh fashioned a noose from threads torn from the mat he slept on and hanged himself from a grille in the ceiling before dawn. While there were closed circuit cameras throughout Tihar, India's highest-security prison, there were none in individual cells, Gupta said.
Singh's lawyer, V.K. Anand, said his client had been composed and calm when he spoke to him in court on Friday and "didn't have any complaints". Singh, who faced the death penalty if convicted of murder, had not been on suicide watch, Anand and Gupta said.
Police have described Singh as the ringleader of five men and a juvenile on trial for the Dec. 16 attack on the 23-year-old trainee physiotherapist in the Indian capital. The assault triggered nationwide protests, a toughening of rape laws and an intense debate about rampant crime against women in India. All six accused have pleaded not guilty to rape and murder.
Singh's father cast doubt on the official version of events.
"He confessed about his mistake, then why would he commit suicide? He was prepared for any punishment the government would have given him," Mange Lal Singh said.
Ram Singh and the four other adult defendants - his brother Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur - have been on trial in a fast-track court. The case was due to resume on Monday.
The remaining five accused could try to use Singh's death to their advantage in the trial, said Supreme Court lawyer Ravi Kant.
Indian jails are known for poor management, torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. It might be one of the reasons that Singh committed suicide or he simply wasn’t man enough to be proven guilty and then face the death penalty or probably it was his guilt and conscience that made him commit suicide.
Guilt or fear, whatever the reason might be, it’s sad that he got away with death so easily. He deserved a lot worse than this. It’s unfair that he died on his own terms. The troubling part about Singh’s death is that others accused will use his death for a less severe punishment. Well, let’s hope they don’t get away with it as easily as Singh did. They must face their death sentences and the entire world should get to witness their horrible death.