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Alec Baldwin Faces Trial in ‘Rust’ Shooting: Key Details

Alec Baldwin Faces Trial in ‘Rust’ Shooting: Key Details

Alec Baldwin's complicated legal battle over the fatal shooting on the set of the movie “Rust” will go to trial this week in New Mexico. A jury will determine whether his involvement in the death of the film's cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, amounts to manslaughter.

The incident occurred on October 21, 2021, when a gun Baldwin was handling fired a live round, killing Hutchins and wounding the director, Joel Souza. The gun was supposed to be loaded with inactive rounds that could not be fired.

The initial news of Baldwin’s criminal charges shocked Hollywood, where many industry professionals believe that on-set gun safety is the responsibility of the gunsmith and production safety coordinators, not the actors. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film’s gunsmith, has already been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The case has called into question Hollywood security practices and placed Baldwin, a longtime figure in the film and television industry, under intense scrutiny. His defense team argues that the prosecution's case is a misguided attempt to secure a high-profile conviction.

The trial will be held in Santa Fe County District Court, will last about two weeks and will be livestreamed. Jury selection is scheduled for Tuesday.

Argument of the prosecutors

Chief prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey argues that Baldwin, 66, violated industry standards for using firearms on set. She cites guidelines that advise actors to never put their finger on the trigger until they are ready to shoot and to never point a gun at anyone.

“These are the rules for actors handling firearms on movie sets, and Mr. Baldwin has managed to ignore them all,” Morrissey wrote in a court filing.

While these guidelines do not require actors to independently inspect their firearms, prosecutors argue that Baldwin had a legal obligation to ensure the safety of the weapon.

Prosecutors plan to present footage showing Baldwin's alleged negligence, including videos of him using the gun inappropriately outside of shooting sequences and firing it after a scene has been cut. Another video reportedly shows Baldwin urging the gunsmith to reload quickly.

They also allege that Baldwin ignored Souza's instructions to slowly draw the gun from his holster, without pointing it directly.

Defense argument

Baldwin, the lead actor and producer of “Rust,” has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and denies responsibility for Hutchins' death. In a television interview weeks after the shooting, he said Hutchins had directed him where to point the gun, which then unexpectedly went off.

Prosecutors insist that forensic evidence refutes Baldwin's claim that he did not pull the trigger. The defense, however, suggests that the gun may have malfunctioned, citing unusual markings on an internal part of the revolver.

Regardless of the trigger issue, Baldwin's defense argues that he could not be held guilty because he had no reason to believe the gun was loaded with a live round. Witnesses have said the crew was told the gun was “cold,” meaning it should not have contained live ammunition, which is usually prohibited on movie sets.

To convict Baldwin of manslaughter, the jury must find that he was aware of the risk and ignored it.

“No one believed that the gun Mr. Baldwin was holding was capable of firing anything, let alone a live round,” Baldwin's attorney, Luke Nikas, wrote in court documents. “It was a prop on a movie set and the actor had been told by the professionals responsible that it did not contain live ammunition.”

The defense blames Gutierrez-Reed and Dave Halls, the first deputy director and security coordinator, arguing that Baldwin was unfairly prosecuted.

Real Ammunition on Set

The central mystery remains how the live ammunition ended up on set. Five more live rounds were found after the shooting, with prosecutors alleging Gutierrez-Reed was responsible. His lawyers deny this and are appealing his conviction.

Testimonies of witnesses

Witnesses will include members of the “Rust” production team, including Souza, Seth Kenney (the main supplier of guns and ammunition), and several crew members who are suing Baldwin. Crew member Ross Addiego testified at Gutierrez-Reed's trial that he believed Baldwin had failed to follow safety guidelines and that cost-cutting on the production had compromised safety.

The defense is likely to call Halls, who has agreed to a plea deal, arguing that his statements benefited Baldwin. Law enforcement officials and weapons experts are also expected to testify.

Prosecutors hoped Gutierrez-Reed would help their case, but she refused to cooperate, making her an unreliable witness.

It is not yet certain whether Baldwin will testify personally.

By Ronda Pickman

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