Alec Baldwin in New Mexico court one day before trial over deadly Rust set shooting is ready to begin

The Hollywood star faces a single felony charge of involuntary manslaughter over the incident in New Mexico in October 2021

Mike Bedigan
New York
Monday 08 July 2024 23:29
Alec Baldwin heads to trial in 'Rust' case

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Alec Baldwin sat stoney-faced in court on Monday as he prepares to face trial over the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Rust movie.

The Hollywood star is charged with a single felony count of involuntary manslaughter over the incident in New Mexico in October 2021, which left the young cinematographer dead.

Jury selection in the case is expected to begin on Tuesday, though Baldwin was present for a pretrial hearing on Monday with his lead attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro.

He appeared to listen intently to proceedings, taking occasional notes on a yellow legal pad and handing written messages to his attorney. Baldwin wore glasses and close-cropped hair.

The actor faces up to 18 months in prison if he’s convicted of the felony charge.

The case has rumbled on for almost three years following the incident in October 2021. Baldwin was rehearsing a cross-draw maneuver with the revolver when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and wounding the film’s director Joel Souza.

Alec Baldwin sits in court for a pre-trial hearing on Monday ahead of jury selection in his involuntary manslaughter case in New Mexico
Alec Baldwin sits in court for a pre-trial hearing on Monday ahead of jury selection in his involuntary manslaughter case in New Mexico (AP)

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and claims the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware the gun contained a live round, Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer — not the trigger — and it fired.

In April Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on set, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins’ death and sentenced to 18 months in prison. She is appealing the conviction.

On Monday, Judge Mary Marlowe Somner ruled that Baldwin’s role as a producer of the Western was not relevant to the trial, a major set back for prosecutors, who had planned to argue that through that role he bore a special responsibility — well beyond that of the actor holding the gun — for the dangerous environment that led to the fatal shooting.

“I’m having real difficulty with the state’s position that they want to show that as a producer he didn’t follow guidelines and therefore as an actor Mr Baldwin did all of these things wrong that resulted in the death of Ms Hutchins because as a producer he allowed these things to happen,” Judge Sommer said.

“I’m denying evidence of his status as a producer.”

Alec Baldwin wipes his eyes during a pretrial hearing Monday, ahead of the start if his involuntary manslaughter trial, beginning on July 9
Alec Baldwin wipes his eyes during a pretrial hearing Monday, ahead of the start if his involuntary manslaughter trial, beginning on July 9 (AP)

Special prosecutor Erlinda Johnson argued unsuccessfully to allow evidence that Baldwin’s “role as a producer made him keenly aware of his responsibilities on set” for safety. “It goes to Mr Baldwin’s knowledge, knowing that his conduct on set was negligent,” she said.

Prosecutors tried to argue that the workplace safety investigation was incomplete, unreliable and glossed over Baldwin's responsibilities in the fatal shooting.

Los Angeles entertainment attorney Tre Lovell said that judge Somner’s Monday ruling was a “gargantuan win” for the actor’s team.

“Before this ruling, Baldwin was vulnerable in terms of his producorial role and the alleged chaotic and unsafe environment on the set,” Lovell said in a statement shared with The Independent.

“Baldwin had a defense that he wasn’t responsible as a producer running the set, that his role was more of a title in name only. Everyone in Hollywood understands that it’s more of an honorary title when someone like Baldwin is starring in a low-budget movie.

Baldwin arrives at the courthouse for a pretrial hearing Monday, in New Mexico
Baldwin arrives at the courthouse for a pretrial hearing Monday, in New Mexico (AP)

“But prosecutors were not describing it that way, and they were trying to pin a lot of responsibility on Baldwin because he had that producer role. Who knows how a jury would end up seeing it? The video evidence of Baldwin giving commands during a different scene with a gun showed he had control of the set. That could have been a compelling argument to convict him based on his control of the set, and now the judge has undercut that.”

Following the tragic incident, Rust Movie Productions paid a $100,000 fine to resolve violations of state safety regulations that were characterized as “serious” but not willful, under a settlement agreement in 2023. Several witnesses to the workplace safety investigation are likely to be called to testify at Baldwin's trial.

During the trial, prosecutors also will be able to present at trial graphic images of Hutchins' injuries from an autopsy report, over objections from the defense, as well as police lapel camera video of the immediate aftermath of the shooting as medics arrived on set to treat the wounded Hutchins and Souza.

The trial, beginning on July 9, is expected to last 10 days.

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