Alec Baldwin’s recklessness led to shooting on set of ‘Rust’, court says – National

As opening statements began Wednesday in the highly anticipated Rust During Alec Baldwin’s trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys attempted to portray him in different lights: as a leader who was negligent about safety, and as an innocent actor playing a role.

Baldwin, 66, is on trial in Santa Fe, N.M., for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of camerawoman Halyna Hutchins during an October 2021 shooting.

Hutchins, 42, was struck and killed by a single “live round” fired from Baldwin’s gun as he rehearsed for the camera. Rust Writer and director Joel Souza was also injured in the incident.

Baldwin and his attorneys have repeatedly maintained that the shooting was accidental and that live ammunition should never have been brought onto the set. However, prosecutors said Baldwin was reckless and violated “cardinal rules of firearm safety.”

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Baldwin, who has pleaded not guilty, is the star and a co-producer of the western drama RustHe could face up to 18 months in prison if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“When someone is playing fantasy games in a real workplace with a real gun, and in the course of fantasy play with that gun, they violate basic rules of firearm safety, people’s lives are in danger and someone can get killed,” prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson told the 16-member jury.

Johnson called the case “simple” and “clear.”

The courtroom was packed with spectators and media representatives. Baldwin’s wife Hilaria, his brother Stephen and his older sister Elizabeth Keuchler were also in the gallery.

Alec Baldwin speaks with his wife Hilaria Baldwin during his hearing at Santa Fe County Superior Court on July 10, 2024 in Santa Fe, NM

Ross D. Franklin – Pool/Getty Images

When the defense was scheduled to make its opening statement, attorney Alex Spiro argued that a gun must be safe before an actor gets his hands on it during a movie or on TV.

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Baldwin’s attorneys will try to convince the jury that blame for Hutchins’ death lies elsewhere, namely with the person who brought the real bullets to the production and the person who gave the loaded gun to Baldwin.

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“The actor’s job is to act, to rehearse, to choreograph his movements, to memorize his lines,” Spiro said. “Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting.”

“No one saw him intentionally pull the trigger.”

Spiro argued that even if Baldwin had pulled the trigger, he still should not be convicted of manslaughter.

“On a movie set, you can pull that trigger,” Spiro said. “That doesn’t make it murder.”

He said other people on set, notably the already convicted gunmaker and the first assistant director, are responsible for ensuring gun safety.

Prosecutors disagree, alleging that Baldwin was negligent and failed to perform a safety check on the Colt .45, while also leaving his finger on the hammer and trigger when he pointed the weapon at people behind the camera.

An image of actor Alec Baldwin is shown on a screen during his trial in Santa Fe County Court, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M.

Ross D. Franklin / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

Baldwin has said the gun malfunctioned and he did not pull the trigger. He also claims he did not know the gun contained live ammunition.

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Testimony began on Wednesday, with Officer Nicholas LeFleur the first to take the stand. He responded to the initial 911 call and was the first officer on the scene.

The jury was shown body camera footage of the incident taken by LeFleur, which showed emergency responders quickly treating Hutchins and Souza after the shooting.

Law enforcement officer Nicholas LeFleur testifies during actor Alec Baldwin’s sentencing hearing at Santa Fe County Superior Court on July 10, 2024 in Santa Fe, NM

Ross D. Franklin – Pool/Getty Images

Souza, who was shot in the shoulder, screams in pain.

Hutchins was shot under her right arm, and the bullet punctured her right lung before also injuring her spinal cord. She is seen lying on the ground surrounded by paramedics in bodycam footage. She died later that day, though Souza would survive.

Later in the video, LeFleur is seen telling Baldwin not to talk to the other potential witnesses, but Baldwin repeatedly does so.

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The second witness in the trial, former sheriff’s Lt. Tim Benavidez, said he took the revolver with him after the shooting. He acknowledged that he was careful with the .45 Colt for safety reasons, but he did not wear gloves and did not take the meticulous forensic precautions he would in a murder investigation.

Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter in January. He had been charged with the same crime a year earlier, but the charges were dropped as prosecutors continued to examine the evidence.

In March, Rust Gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Prosecutors said at an earlier trial that Gutierrez-Reed unknowingly brought live ammunition into the Rust ranch and claimed the bullets remained there for at least 12 days until the fatal shooting.

Rust’Assistant District Court Director Dave Halls pleaded guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon in exchange for his testimony.

Gutierrez-Reed told the court she verified that the gun Baldwin fired was loaded with dummy bullets. She then gave the gun to Halls, who gave it to the actor.

— with files from The Associated Press

© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Sarah Do Couto

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