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Actor Alec Baldwin faces involuntary manslaughter charge in movie set shooting. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP via CNN Newsource)

Opening statements begin in Baldwin’s trial

July 10, 2024

By Josh Campbell and Ray Sanchez, CNN

(CNN) — Jurors in the involuntary manslaughter trial of actor Alec Baldwin will hear opening statements Wednesday, nearly three years after Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot on the New Mexico set of the Western film “Rust.”

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the October 2021 death of the 42-year-old cinematographer. A film director also was wounded when a gun held by Baldwin fired a live round during a scene rehearsal at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a movie set outside Santa Fe.

Twelve jurors and four alternates were empaneled Tuesday for the trial in Sante Fe, selected after the prosecution and defense questioned a pool of 70 Sante Fe County residents earlier in the day.

If convicted, Baldwin could face up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The case has been marked by years-long fits and starts with turnovers in prosecutors, a prosecution stalled by questions surrounding the integrity of evidence and a steady spate of motions from Baldwin’s team attempting to get the charge thrown out.

In March, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the armorer for “Rust,” was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after jurors deliberated for nearly three hours. She was acquitted of a charge of evidence tampering. Gutierrez Reed was sentenced to 18 months in prison, the maximum possible punishment, and is appealing the conviction.

Special prosecutors intend to portray Baldwin as repeatedly flouting safety protocols on the movie set in the days before the fatal shooting, according to a court filing last month.

In pretrial court filings, prosecutors outlined repeated instances in which Baldwin allegedly acted dangerously between October 12 and October 21, 2021. They claim the evidence will demonstrate “reckless behavior” by the defendant, according to a notice to Baldwin’s attorneys on evidence they intend to present.

Prosecutors in the notice said the evidence “is relevant because it is part of the crime of involuntary manslaughter as it shows defendant’s recklessness or criminal negligence on October 21, 2021, when he shot and killed Halyna Hutchins.”

Baldwin’s attorneys have referred CNN to their filings asking the court to dismiss the indictment and accusing the prosecution of selected disclosure of evidence.

In a statement to CNN in May, after a New Mexico judge’s initial refusal to dismiss the charge, Baldwin’s legal team said, “We look forward to our day in court.”

Baldwin has previously stated to CNN that he did not pull the trigger during the fatal shooting, though he said he did cock the hammer of the gun.

“I never took a gun and pointed at somebody and clicked the thing,” Baldwin said in the 2022 interview.

In October of that year, the family of Hutchins and Baldwin reached an undisclosed settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the actor and others. As part of the settlement, Matthew Hutchins, the cinematographer’s widower, was named an executive producer on “Rust.”

In the run-up to Baldwin’s trial, the judge denied multipledefense motions seeking to throw out the case.

Baldwin’s attorneys had accused prosecutors of misconduct during the grand jury process; had argued the shooting death of Hutchins was an accident and Baldwin was not criminally liable; and had claimed the gun used in the shooting was destroyed during forensic testing by the FBI and the defense could not attempt to recreate the examination.

Prosecutors, in pretrial court filings, cited video evidence from the set they claim shows examples of Baldwin’s alleged mishandling of the replica revolver he used during the production.

For instance, prosecutors alleged in one filing, Baldwin “used his gun as a pointer directing crew members,” “discharged the revolver after the filming was over and ‘cut’ was called,” “engaged in horseplay with the revolver while making videos,” pointed the gun and fired a blank round at a crew member “while using that crew member as a line of site as his perceived target” and “shot several scenes wherein he placed his finger on the trigger of the revolver where the scene did not require any shooting of the firearm.”

The state also accuses Baldwin of being “inattentive during the firearms training” conducted by Gutierrez Reed, claiming the actor texted and video conferenced with family members rather than focus on the safety briefing.

Baldwin’s team declined to comment on the state’s accusations. The actor has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors initially sought to argue in court that Baldwin’s role as a producer also opened him up to potential liability for the alleged culture of unsafe practices on the set.

However, in a significant victory for the defense, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled on Monday that Baldwin’s producer role will not be considered at trial.

“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 these things wrong resulting in the death of Halyna Hutchins because as a producer, he allowed this all to happen,” Marlowe Sommer said Monday.

The judge said her decision was impacted by the fact that the film had other producers and Baldwin himself was not solely responsible for on-set decision making.

In January 2023 prosecutors announced charges of involuntary manslaughter against Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed.

Dave Halls, the assistant director, agreed to plead no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon, the district attorney for New Mexico’s First Judicial District said. The terms of that deal included six months of probationand a suspended sentence, prosecutors said.

How the shooting happened

The shooting occurred when Baldwin and several crew members gathered in a church at the New Mexico ranch on October 21, 2021, to rehearse a scene.

Gutierrez Reed loaded a prop six-shot revolver with what she’s said she believed were “dummy” rounds, a term for ammo that contains no explosive elements but appear to be real, according to investigators and her defense attorney.

At one point Halls fetched a prop gun from a cart outside the church and yelled “cold gun,” indicating it was unloaded. He then handed the gun to Baldwin.

Baldwin practiced a “cross draw” – pulling a gun from a holster on the opposite side of his body from his draw hand. The scene required him to point the gun toward the camera, helmed by Hutchins, director Joel Souza and a camera operator.

Suddenly, they heard a loud bang. Hutchins stumbled backward, slumped to the floor clutching her stomach and said she couldn’t feel her legs. Souza, who had been standing beside her, noticed blood on his shoulder.

Hutchins was transported by helicopter to the hospital and later pronounced dead. Souza was treated at the hospital, and a projectile from a live round was removed from his back.

Baldwin’s prosecution was initially led by New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, a Democrat who later stepped aside, leaving the work to special prosecutors.

One special prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, who also serves as a Republican state legislator, subsequently resigned from the case after Baldwin’s legal team moved to have her disqualified, citing constitutional questions about a lawmaker working for the prosecution.

Controversy surrounding Reeb later escalated after the New York Times obtained communications between Reeb and Carmack-Altwies following her hiring, in which the GOP lawmaker joked that serving on the team prosecuting Baldwin could help her political campaign. Reeb did not respond to a request for comment by the Times.

In April 2023, special prosecutors dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin, citing “new facts” in the case, noting that the “decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled.”

But in October, prosecutors said “additional facts have come to light that we believe show Mr. Baldwin has criminal culpability in the death of Halyna Hutchins.” Baldwin was indicted by a grand jury in January on two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

CNN’s Jack Hannah, Elizabeth Wagmeister, Cheri Mossburg and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

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