Prosecutors say Alec Baldwin broke ‘cardinal rules’ for handling guns

The Hollywood actor’s trial has begun in Santa Fe, three years after Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins’s killing.

Alec Baldwin
US actor Alec Baldwin, centre, leaves the court with one of his lawyers Luke Nikas, left, after the first day in his trial for involuntary manslaughter in Santa Fe, New Mexico [Frederic J Brown/AFP]

A New Mexico prosecutor has argued that actor Alec Baldwin broke “cardinal rules” for handling guns in the 2021 killing of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, while his lawyer said he was failed by the movie’s set safety experts who already have been convicted in the case.

Baldwin, 66, is on trial in Hollywood’s first on-set shooting death in three decades. He took notes at the defence table and listened calmly to opening statements in his involuntary manslaughter trial on Wednesday.

A jury of 12 and four alternates – 11 women and five men – heard prosecutor Erlinda Johnson outline arguments that Baldwin disregarded safety during filming of the low-budget movie before pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal, cocking it and pulling the trigger as they set up a camera shot on a set southwest of Santa Fe.

“The evidence will show that someone who played make-believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin,” Johnson said.

Baldwin’s wife Hilaria Baldwin was also present at the hearing and sat in the second row of the public gallery. His brother Stephen Baldwin sat in front of her.

Alec Baldwin
Hilaria Baldwin listens during her husband actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District, New Mexico [Ross D Franklin/Pool/AFP]

Baldwin’s lawyer Alex Spiro pointed to Rust armourer Hannah Gutierrez – head of gun safety – and first assistant director Dave Halls – responsible for overall set safety. Both have been convicted in the shooting, and Spiro said they did not check the rounds in the gun to ensure it was safe for Baldwin to use.

“There were people responsible for firearms safety, but actor Alec Baldwin committed no crime,” said Spiro.

Hutchins was killed, and director Joel Souza wounded when Baldwin’s reproduction 1873 Single Action Army revolver fired a live round, inadvertently loaded by Gutierrez.

Since a police interview on October 21, 2021, the day of the shooting, Baldwin has argued the gun just “went off.”

In an ABC News interview two months later, Baldwin also told George Stephanopoulos he did not pull the trigger.

Meanwhile, a 2022 FBI test found the gun was in normal working condition and would not fire from full cock without the trigger being pulled. State prosecutors charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in January 2022. They dropped the charges three months later after Baldwin’s lawyers presented photographic evidence that the gun was modified, arguing it would fire more easily, bolstering the actor’s accidental discharge argument.

On Wednesday, Spiro said that even if Baldwin pulled the trigger, it was not a crime. He said it was the job of Gutierrez and Halls to safely allow an actor “to wave it, to point it, to pull the trigger, like actors do.”

“On a movie set, you’re allowed to pull the trigger, so even if he intentionally pulled the trigger, as prosecutors said, that doesn’t mean he committed a homicide,” said Spiro.

Armorer Gutierrez, whose job on the set of Rust included managing firearms safely, has been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March for loading the live round.

It is not yet known if Baldwin plans to take the stand in his defence. Legal experts have said it would be a risky move, exposing the allegedly temperamental actor to hostile cross-examination.

Baldwin’s trial is scheduled to conclude next Friday. Jury deliberations could extend into the following week.

Source: News Agencies