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In Rust trial, actor Alec Baldwin accused of breaking gun rules; defence blames experts

In Rust trial, actor Alec Baldwin accused of breaking gun rules; defence blames experts
Actor Alec Baldwin exits the courtroom after his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, on Wednesday, July 10, 2024.
PHOTO: Reuters

SANTA FE, New Mexico - A New Mexico prosecutor on July 10 said 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.

The 66-year-old Baldwin, on trial in Hollywood's first on-set shooting fatality in three decades, took notes at the defence table and listened calmly in his involuntary manslaughter trial. The prosecution is largely unprecedented in US history, holding an actor criminally responsible for a gun death during filming.

A New Mexico jury heard prosecutor Erlinda Johnson outline arguments Baldwin disregarded safety during filming of the low-budget movie when he pointed a gun at Hutchins, cocked it and pulled the trigger as they set up a camera shot in movie-set church south-west 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, sat in the second row of the public gallery, his brother Stephen Baldwin in front of her.

His 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 Oct 21, 2021, the day of the shooting, Baldwin has argued the gun just "went off."

In an ABC News interview two months later, Baldwin told George Stephanopoulos he did not pull the trigger. A 2022 FBI test found the gun was in normal working condition and would not fire from full cock without the trigger being pulled.

In a sign the defence was backing away from that position, 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.

State prosecutors charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in January 2022. They dropped charges three months later after Baldwin's lawyers presented photographic evidence the gun was modified, arguing it would fire more easily, bolstering the actor's accidental discharge argument.

Prosecutors called a grand jury to reinstate the charge in January after an independent firearms expert confirmed the 2022 FBI study.

"He pointed the gun at another human being, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger in reckless disregard for miss Hutchins' safety," Johnson said.

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

Lawyer Gloria Allred, representing Hutchins' parents and sister in a lawsuit against Baldwin, was in the courtroom's public gallery on July 10. 

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