Bollywood star Salman Khan was on Wednesday sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty by a court in Mumbai of killing a homeless man in a 2002 hit-and-run crash after a night out drinking.
While convicting Khan, sessions court judge DW Deshpande said all the charges against the star, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder, had been proved. Khan was taken into custody after the sentencing and would be sent to Arthur Road Jail later in the day.
The judge said 49-year-old Khan was driving the car at the time of the accident and the defence’s contention that his driver Ashok Singh was at the wheel was not probable.
Khan, wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, broke down on hearing the verdict and witnesses said there were tears in his eyes. Khan’s family members too were upset and his two sisters also broke down in the courtroom.
While the judge heard arguments on the quantum of sentence, Khan’s lawyer sought a lesser sentence in view of his humanitarian work. He said the actor had paid Rs 19 lakh as compensation to the victims and would do more if ordered.
“We are not running away from responsibility,” the counsel said. Khan himself pleaded with the judge for a lesser sentence.
The prosecution sought the maximum punishment of 10 years.
Khan was charged with running over five persons sleeping on a pavement outside a bakery in Bandra in his Toyota Land Cruiser early on September 28, 2002, killing one and injuring four. Prosecutors said he was under the influence of alcohol.
Whether Khan is sent to jail on Wednesday or he gets bail will be decided by the court.
Khan has the option to appeal in the Bombay High court against the sessions court’s verdict.
The prosecution examined 27 witnesses in the case, including eyewitnesses, persons who were injured in the accident, employees of a bar where Khan was drinking, the doctor who took a blood sample of the actor, doctors who treated the injured, forensic experts and police officers.
The judgement was announced amid tight security around the court at Kalaghoda and only lawyers, media and court staff were allowed in the courtroom. A large number of media teams, lawyers and fans converged on the court complex to find out about the actor’s fate.
Lawyers and fans kept pushing to enter the courtroom and the judge asked police to intervene. The judge directed police not to allow any more people inside as there was no space. The proceedings were briefly put on hold because of the disturbance before the judge had the doors of the courtroom closed.
Hours before the verdict, #WeLoveYouSalmanKhan and #SalmanVerdict were trending on Twitter. Relatives and friends from the industry, including Shah Rukh Khan, were seen visiting Khan on Wednesday night.
The actor is known for cranking out some of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters and has an estimated Rs 300 crore riding on his films.
Khan had earlier said he was not at the wheel at the time of the accident and insisted his driver Ashok Singh was behind the wheel.
The prosecution said the actor ran away from the scene of the crime.
The defence argued that police had not obtained fingerprints from the steering wheel to find out who was driving the vehicle.
Khan’s lawyers contested the prosecution’s allegations and said he had been drinking water all evening. They also said the man was killed during an operation to move the car, rather than in the crash, when the bumper fell off and landed on him.
The surprise element in the trial came when Khan’s driver Ashok Singh came to the court after 12 years and deposed he was at the wheel when the accident occurred. Singh said the car’s front left tyre burst, making steering and braking difficult.
Khan has starred in more than 100 films and television shows since his first hit, Maine Pyar Kiya, in the 1980s. The muscular actor is no stranger to controversy off screen and in 1998, he spent more than a week in prison for allegedly killing endangered blackbucks.
He is facing two other cases in Rajasthan for allegedly poaching endangered animals and possessing arms without a valid licence.