Alec Baldwin Scowls as ‘Rust’ Trial Prosecutors Begin Manslaughter Case: ‘Violated the Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety’

The manslaughter trial of Alec Baldwin began in earnest Tuesday as New Mexico prosecutors began laying out their case by telling the freshly seated jury that the “Rust” actor and producer repeatedly “violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety” on the set of the ill-fated Western.

Baldwin arrived at court early with wife Hilaria and brother Stephen, chatting with lawyers and scowling after taking his seat. Dressed in a suit and tie, Baldwin furiously took notes as the prosecution began, fidgeting with and occasionally removing his burgundy eyeglasses.

The state kicked off its case with an opening statement by Erlinda Ocampo Johnson, a defense lawyer appointed by New Mexico as special prosecutor.

“When someone plays make-believe with a real gun in a real live workplace, and while playing make-believe with that gun violates the cardinal rules of firearm safety, peoples’ lives are in danger, and someone could be killed,” Johnson began. “Ladies and gentlemen, that is what this case is about. It’s simple and straightforward. 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.”

The prosecution kept its opening statement brief, giving over to the defense after about 20 minutes. Baldwin’s attorney Alex Spiro immediately telegraphed the meat of his client’s defense: That it was the job of assistant director Dave Halls and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to make sure the gun was safe – and not the actor’s.

“[Halls] will tell you he made a tragic mistake. He failed to detect a live bullet,” Spiro said, emphasizing that the AD said “cold gun” before he handed the gun to Baldwin. “No one fathomed, imagined or foresaw any danger.”

Spiro said during the scene rehearsal in a small church, Baldwin was taking instructions from Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer accidentally shot and killed in the October 2020 incident outside of Santa Fe – and Halls, whose job title included set safety.

“The evidence will show that on a movie set, safety has to occur before the gun is placed in the actor’s hands,” Spiro said, later citing SAG guidelines. “That’s not the actor’s role.”

Spiro repeatedly referred to Baldwin’s role as an actor – never mentioning that he was also a co-producer, and by design. On Monday, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled the state could not present evidence that Baldwin was also a coproducer on “Rust,” which they could have argued made him responsible for overall set safety.

Gutierrez-Reed was convicted earlier this year and is serving a six-month sentence. Halls entered a no-contest plea on a misdemeanor negligence charge and testified in the armorer’s criminal trial, where he openly took responsibility for his mistake on the stand.

Spiro also attacked the investigation, suggesting the gun was handled by multiple people immediately after the shooting and adding that the prop truck was not secured. That argument would suggest that like Gutierrez-Reed, Baldwin intends to infer that a third party may have been responsible for the live rounds on the “Rust” set.

In his conclusion, Spiro noted that “no actor in history” has ever intercepted a live round while filming a scene with a gun, in no small part because gun safety isn’t in the job description: “What happened was an unspeakable tragedy,” he said – but “not a homicide.”

A jury of 12, plus four alternates, was selected Tuesday. The panel includes 11 women and five men.

With opening statements concluded, the prosecution called its first witness after a morning break, beginning with Nicholas LaFleur, the police officer who first responded to the scene. LaFleur told the jury that some firefighters were present when he arrived, and that he did what he could to help.

Video footage from LaFleur’s bodycam was shown for the courtroom, showing the chaotic moments as EMTs and other first-responders desperately tried to save Hutchins’ life. The jury could see her writhing and hear her moaning in pain; hours later, the Ukranian mother would be declared dead hours later at a New Mexico hospital.

This story is developing …

Alec Baldwin

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