An Indian judge has convicted Bollywood superstar Salman Khan of killing a homeless man in a 2002 hit-and-run after a night out drinking, rejecting his claim that his driver was to blame.
DW Deshpande found Khan guilty of culpable homicide after driving his Toyota Land Cruiser into a group of homeless men sleeping rough in suburban Mumbai after spending the evening in an upmarket bar.
One man was killed and several others were injured in the incident.
Khan, the star of blockbusters such as Dabangg (Fearless), looked dejected after hearing the verdict, according to an AFP reporter inside the courtroom.
Khan had always denied being behind the wheel, but now faces up to 10 years in prison, potentially bringing the career of one of the Indian movie industry’s biggest box-office stars to a halt.
The trial began in earnest last year after a series of court hearings and legal hold-ups.
A string of prosecution witnesses, including survivors of the crash, testified that Khan was driving the vehicle when it ploughed at speed into the men sleeping on the street near a bakery in September 2002.
When 49-year-old Khan finally took the stand in March, he pleaded not guilty and told the court that his driver was responsible for mounting the pavement in the upmarket suburb of Bandra West.
The driver testified in court last month that he had been behind the wheel, and that the crash occurred after the front left tyre burst, making steering and braking difficult.
But the judge on Wednesday found Khan guilty of all charges, including driving while under the influence of alcohol.
Khan is likely to appeal the verdict, while the court is now hearing submissions from his lawyers on the length of sentence to be decided by the judge.
A constable attached to Khan’s security detail said in his statement to police that the drunk actor lost control of the car while driving at about 90km/h.
“The people were sleeping on the footpath. Salman and (his cousin) Kamaal ran away from the spot,” said the constable, who died in 2007 of tuberculosis.
One of the sleeping labourers injured in the accident said in his statement that “Salman was so drunk he fell. He stood but he fell again and then he … ran away”.
Khan’s lawyers said the star had in fact been drinking water all evening and had climbed out of the driver’s seat after the accident because the passenger side door had been damaged.
They also said that the victim, Nurulah Mahbob Sharif, was killed during an operation to move the car, rather than the crash itself, when the bumper fell off and landed on him.