Over 13 years after his car plowed through a group of homeless people sleeping on a pavement, killing one and wounding four, superstar Salman Khan today walked free after the Bombay High Court acquitted him of “all charges”, overturning the trial court order sentencing him for five years.
The court held that the prosecution had failed to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the actor was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident and was drunk.
The judgement came on an appeal by the superstar, seven months after he was pronounced guilty by the trial court of running over five people sleeping on a pavement outside a laundry in suburban Bandra with his Toyota Land Cruiser, killing one and causing injury to four others on October 28, 2002.
“The appeal is allowed. The trial court’s verdict is quashed and set aside…Salman is acquitted of all the charges,” Justice A R Joshi said, reading out the judgement.
“….this court has come to the conclusion that the prosecution has failed to bring material on record to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant (Salman was driving and was under the influence of alcohol, also, whether the accident occurred due to bursting (of tyre) prior to the incident or tyre burst after the incident…,” the judge said.
After the verdict was pronounced in a jam-packed courtroom, the 49-year-old actor, overcome with emotions, broke down in full public view before being asked by his long-time bodyguard Shera to turn his face toward the wall so people do not see his tears. A visibly relieved Salman was later seen humming a song as sister Alvira flashed a ‘Thumbs up’ sign.
The judge rejected as “wholly unreliable” the statement of eyewitness Ravindra Patil, former police bodyguard of Salman, recorded by a Magistrate in which he had accused the actor of driving under the influence of liquor.
The judge said Patil a “wholly unreliable” witness because he had subsequently made “improvements” in his statement to the Magistrate. Patil, the first informant in the case, had in the FIR filed soon after the accident, not accused Salman of having consumed liquor but only said he was “speeding” against his advice.
The prosecution’s case during the trial firmly rested on the statement of Patil, who died in 2007, much before the case was tried afresh under the more serious charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The Magistrate’s court had conducted the trial for a much lesser offence of causing death by rash and negligent driving.
Holding that the evidence was “weak”, Justice Joshi dwelt upon the shortcomings in the prosecution’s case, including not recording evidence of important witnesses and also omissions and contradictions in the evidence of injured witnesses.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has said the government will decide on whether to appeal against the judgement after going through the court’s order.
“We will examine the (High) court order and decide further course of action.