Indian movie star Salman Khan has been acquitted of running over five homeless people with his SUV in 2002, and killing one of them. The Bombay High Court threw out an earlier five-year sentence.
The prosecution "failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt" that the famous actor had been behind the wheel of his Toyota Cruiser, judge Anil Ramchandra Joshi said on Thursday.
"On basis of evidence produced by the prosecution, the appellant cannot be convicted, no matter how differently the common man thinks," the judge said, as quoted by broadcaster NDTV.
The Bollywood star reportedly broke down in tears upon hearing the verdict.
The 49-year old Khan was sentenced to five years in prison by a lower court in May this year. Previously, the trial over the 2002 incident had been repeatedly delayed by a series of hearings and legal hold-ups.
The lower court found Khan guilty of ramming his car into a group of homeless people who were sleeping at the sidewalk near a Mumbai bakery. The actor was driving drunk and without a license, according to the prosecution. One person was killed.
Khan immediately appealed and his sentence was suspended after two days.
Bodyguard not 'reliable'
On Wednesday, the Bombay High Court stated that the judges were wrong to accept a testimony Khan's former bodyguard, Ravindra Patil.
Patil, who died in 2007, had insisted that Khan was behind the wheel and speeding.
Judge Joshi, who presided over the appeal, described Patil's testimony as "not wholly reliable," citing "various anomalies."
"Unfortunately there are no witnesses to back his version," the judge said.
Khan's defense team has insisted that the family's driver Ashok Singh was behind the wheel at the time of the incident.
Khan's career continues
Khan's lawyer Amit Desai told reporters that it "had been a long 13 years."
"As far as my client is concerned it's a great relief. We are very glad of the outcome," he said.
The prosecution can challenge the Thursday verdict before the Indian Supreme Court.
Khan has continued to make movies and television shows despite the hit-and-run controversy, and remains one of the most influential figures in India's entertainment industry.
dj/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, AFP)