In a breather to actor Salman Khan, a witness today informed a local court that it appeared to him that the actor was not drunk at the relevant time after he had rammed his car into a shop in suburban Bandra in 2002, killing one person and injuring four others who were sleeping outside.
Francis Fernandes (63), a neighbour of Salman, who stays near the site of the mishap, told sessions judge D W Deshpande that he had gone to the spot after hearing shouts of people and saw the actor surrounded by a mob armed with sticks and stones. Fernandes said he knew Salman since his (the latter's) childhood and stayed in the same area where the actor resided and also where the accident had taken place. "Salman did not appear to be drunk as there was no smell of alcohol when I went near him. He looked normal and walked straight," the witness said much to the relief of Salman, who was standing in the dock listening to the deposition.
Fernandes said this while replying to questions put by Salman's lawyer Srikant Shivade during cross-examination. The case of the prosecution is that the actor was drunk when he met with an accident. According to police, Salman had allegedly consumed a couple of drinks with friends at a bar in J W Marriot hotel at Juhu before he met with an accident on September 28, 2002, outside American Bakery. "I got up on hearing the shouts of "Bachao Bachao" and went down to the place where people had gathered with sticks and stones. I went near Salman. On seeing me, he said 'Commander mujhe bacha lijiye'(Commander save me from the people), "Fernandes told public prosecutor Jagannath Kenjralkar.
The witness said that he took Salman to the direction of his (actor's) house. Fernandes said his wife asked the actor to sit in their car and go home. Salman then left for home in their car, the court was told. Fernandes said he was successful in pulling out the actor from the scene of mishap and advised him to go home. To another question, the witness said that the mob had become violent after the accident.
After seeing the crowd armed with sticks and stones, I felt that Salman's life was in danger. Police, however, had not arrived by that time and came after 10 to 15 minutes. A clean shaven Salman, attired in a navy blue shirt and jeans, had come to the court along with his bodyguard and two sisters, Alvira and Arpita.
Seven witnesses have so far deposed in Salman's hit-and-run case. Of them, three persons, who were injured in the mishap, have identified the actor saying he had got down from the car which met with an accident on the ill-fated day. One witness told the court that the actor had come to 'Rain Bar' at a five-star hotel along with his friends (prior to the mishap) and he had served them drinks but he could not remember whether Salman had consumed alcohol.
The court deferred the trial to June 23 after hearing the prosecution and the defence lawyers. Police filed an application today seeking a direction to investigate into allegations of threat given on telephone to a witness by a lawyer. However, the court said it would not interfere and pass any order at this stage as police have already been asked to probe the matter.
The witness, Muslim Shaikh, had complained that he was allegedly threatened by lawyer Mukesh Pande on May 4 on his cellphone to go back on his version in lieu of a Rs five lakh offer. However, the lawyer, in a statement to police, denied the allegations and produced cell phone records to show that he had not made any such call to the witness on that day. Advocate Pande is the same lawyer who had helped Shaikh get compensation from Salman on the orders of the Bombay High Court.
On December 5 last year, the court had ordered a fresh trial on the ground that the witnesses had not been examined in the context of aggravated charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which was invoked against the actor midway through the case. The charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder attracts a 10-year sentence. The actor had earlier been tried by a magistrate for a lesser offence of causing death by negligence, which entailed an imprisonment of two years.
The case, dragging on for over a decade, had taken a twist earlier this year when the magistrate, after examining 17 witnesses, held that the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder was made out against Salman and referred the matter to a sessions court, as cases under this offence are tried by a higher court.