Popular Indian movie star Salman Khan, known for his macho good looks and steamy action scenes on screen in the Mumbai mainstream Hindi cinema, has been pronounced guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder on all counts - guilty as charged- in the 28 September 2002 hit-and-run case in which one pavement dweller was killed and four others sustained minor to grievous injuries when the actor's white land cruiser rammed into them at a bakery in suburban Bandra in Mumbai.
The 13-year-old trial came to a close on Wednesday with a five-year- jail term for the actor, who broke down in court on hearing the verdict.
The conviction followed within hours after prosecution and the defence lawyers presented their arguments on the quantum of punishment.
The sessions judge, Mr DW Deshpande of a Mumbai court, sentenced the actor to five years in prison as he succinctly summed up his verdict in a single sentence: " You were behind the wheel driving the vehicle, under the influence of alcohol and without a valid driving licence." Salman was immediately taken into custody by the police and driven straight to the Aurthur Road Prison in Central Mumbai.
The government might shift him to a high-security prison considering his celebrity status.
Defence lawyers led by Mr Shrikan Shivade pleaded for a lighter sentence of up to three years and a fine considering the humanitarian work of the actor, who runs a charitable organisation, "Being Human".
The defence team also submitted a medical certificate to substantiate their contention that the actor has not been keeping well and his Incarceration might lead to mental trauma," Mr Shivade contended.
This was strongly opposed by prosecutor Mr Pradeep Gharat who argued that the accused must be given maximum punishment as provided by law since he has been found guilty of all charges.
"The seriousness or gravity of the offence should be the main consideration in pronouncing sentence....issues like compensation should not come in the way of exemplary punishment." Both sides also cited relevant extracts from two previous famous hit-and -run case of Alistair Pereira (Mumbai) and Nikhil Honda (Delhi).
Standing in the witness box, the crestfallen 49-year-old actor was asked by the judge, "What do you have to say?" Salman remained silent, but deep in thought.
The actor was declared guilty under the Indian Penal Code's Section 304(II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), Section 279 (rash and negligent driving), Section 337 ( causing minor injuries), Section 338 (causing major injuries ) and Section 427 ( negligence) and also under sections 34(a), 181(driving vehicle in contravention of rule), Section 185 (driving at great speed after consuming alcohol) of the Motor Vehicle Act.
Under these sections, the maximum punishment a court can mete out is 10 years of imprisonment.
The 13-year-old case was taken up anew last year after Salman's plea for a fresh trial was accepted by the court.
The accused demanded fresh trial since he was being tried under more severe Section 304(II) of the Indian Penal Code for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The prosecution examined 27 witnesses and produced one defence witness Ashok Singh, the actor's driver.
Singh gave a new twist to the case as he claimed it was he and not his employer, who was at the steering wheel when the mishap took place. This fanciful defence was dismissed by judge Deshpande on Wednesday who told the driver Singh, "You are a liar and liable for facing charge of perjury (telling lies on oath in court)".
The crucial testimony in the high profile celebrity case had been Salman's bodyguard, a police constable Ravindra Patil's recorded account of the hit-and-run incident on the night of 28 September, 2002.
Patil recalled that he had repeatedly asked the actor to drive at a modest speed. Patil, who died in 2007 of tuberculosis, is on record confirming that the actor was driving at 90 kim/h when mowed down five pavement dwellers near the American Bakery close to his home in Galaxy Apartments in Bandra (west).
Prosecution counsel Mr Shrikant Shivade's argument to counter or nullify the deceased testimony by claiming that Ashok Singh was driving the SUV and not Salman Khan failed to convince the court.
Other witness who helped the prosecution to clinch the case was chemical analyst Mr Dattatreya Bhalskanker who deposed that Salman Khan's blood sample extracted immediately after the accident tested positive for 62 mg alcohol, which was twice the permissible limit.
Film industry sources said nearly Rs 200 crore were locked in two movies starring Salman Khan. The movies under production are "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" and "Prem Ratan Dhan Payo".
The actor, who has often been described as brash and impulsive in keeping with his image on screen, was earlier accused of poaching three "chinkaras" and a "black buck" in Jodhpur in Rajasthan in 1998 while shooting for the movie, "Hum Saath Saath Hain". The case has been in court for the last 16 years.