Alec Baldwin: Jurors Selected in Rust Shooting Trial

Video caption, Halftime: Alec Baldwin arrives at the courthouse for the trial

  • Author, Emma Vardy, Samantha Granville and Christal Hayes
  • Role, BBC news

A jury has been empaneled to hear the trial of Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting on a film set in New Mexico.

Mr Baldwin, 66, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, which he denies, in the October 2021 death of camerawoman Halyna Hutchins.

The 42-year-old was killed after a gun Mr Baldwin was using during a scene rehearsal for the film Rust went off, fatally striking the cameraman and wounding director Joel Souza.

The 12 jurors and four alternates who will hear the case were selected Tuesday after prosecutors and Mr. Baldwin’s lawyers questioned them on everything from their political leanings to their knowledge of the case.

Opening statements will be held Wednesday morning in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Mr. Baldwin — best known for his role as Jack Donaghy on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock and for his role as Donald Trump on the sketch show Saturday Night Live — was accompanied in court by his family, including his wife, Hilaria. He has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

He claims he did not pull the trigger and says the gun went off when he cocked the revolver’s hammer. His defense team claims it was the responsibility of other crew members to make sure the gun was safe.

However, prosecutors call this claim “absurd.” They allege the actor failed to share this information during the initial interrogation after the shooting. They also argue that he had a responsibility to practice basic gun safety.

What happened on the set of Rust?

Video caption, A video released in 2022 shows Alec Baldwin practicing with a gun while filming

In October 2021, Mr. Baldwin rehearsed on the set of the Western near Santa Fe, New Mexico. He practiced pulling the gun across his body as the director asked him to point it at the camera in an upcoming scene.

Mr. Baldwin — who boasts a 40-year acting career — had a starring role in the film, which he also co-produced, playing an outlaw whose 13-year-old grandson is convicted of manslaughter.

As he pointed the revolver during rehearsal, it went off. A bullet from the gun hit Mrs. Hutchins in the chest, and director Joel Souza in the shoulder.

Mrs. Hutchins was flown by helicopter to hospital but died from her injuries. Mr. Souza was taken by ambulance from the scene at Bonanza Creek Ranch.

Court documents show that Mr. Baldwin and others on set did not know the gun was loaded or that it contained live ammunition.

It was later discovered that the film’s gunsmith, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, brought a box of live bullets to the film set from her California home. Prosecutors say the live bullets slowly spread across the set over the course of 12 days.

Gutierrez-Reed, who loaded the gun for Mr. Baldwin before the shooting, was charged and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Ms. Hutchins. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison — the maximum penalty.

Judge Mary Sommers, who oversaw the case, said Gutierrez-Reed’s mistake cost Ms Hutchins her life by “turning a safe weapon into a deadly weapon”.

David Halls, assistant director and safety coordinator, also pleaded guilty to unsafe use of a firearm.

What is the progress in the case?

One of the key questions in the case is: Did Mr. Baldwin pull the trigger or did the gun malfunction?

Several weeks after the fatal shooting, Baldwin said in a controversial interview with ABC News that he did not pull the trigger.

Legal experts say this forces the actor to file a much more limited defense, as he cannot argue that he did not remember the event or that it happened by accident.

They also cited an FBI report that tested Mr. Baldwin’s claim. The report concluded that the “gun’s trigger must be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer.”

During analysis of the weapon in 2022, an FBI investigator struck the weapon with a hammer, fracturing its internal components.

Mr. Baldwin’s lawyers called this “outrageous” and argued that the destroyed weapon deprived the defense of the opportunity to examine the weapon in its original condition.

But a judge has rejected a last-ditch effort to have the involuntary manslaughter charge dismissed.

Image caption, The reproduction of the 1873 Long Colt .45 revolver used by actor Alec Baldwin when cameraman Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot

What to expect during the trial period

According to California attorney Tre Lovell, prosecutors will argue that Baldwin was not relieved of basic gun handling skills and safety duties despite being on a film set.

They will argue that anyone who holds a gun, whether on a movie set or in real life, has a duty to never point the gun at anyone and to ensure it is not loaded with live ammunition.

During a preliminary hearing, prosecutors attempted to argue that Baldwin, as a producer, had greater responsibility for safety on set, but Judge Sommer agreed with the defense, saying that was not relevant to the case.

That means Mr. Baldwin’s role as producer (a credit for raising money, creative input or physical production work) will not be included in the pilot.

But his defense team has a lot of work to do to win the case, Lovell says, because it has to help the jury understand a movie set: a space where people have roles and responsibilities.

“They have to show the jury that once you put the onus on an actor to make sure a prop is safe, the set will descend into chaos,” he said.

“There is no evidence that he [Baldwin] would even have known the difference between the fake bullet and a real bullet.”

Baldwin’s legal team will also likely argue that the actor should have trusted the film’s gunsmith and security coordinator — Gutierrez-Reed and Halls, respectively — to ensure he could do his job without worry.

Will Baldwin testify?

Mr. Baldwin is not currently scheduled to testify at the trial, but that does not mean he won’t.

Most legal experts agree that there is little reason to have a defendant testify at trial, as it gives prosecutors the opportunity to question the defendant.

Mr. Baldwin’s defense team may wait until the end of the trial to make a decision based on how the proceedings went.

The process is expected to take 10 days.

Gutierrez-Reed did not testify at her trial.

Could Baldwin face jail time?

Image caption, An image of camerawoman Halyna Hutchins, displayed at a vigil following her death

Mr Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison on charges relating to Ms Hutchins’ death.

Gutierrez-Reed, who was charged with the same charges in the fatal shooting, received the maximum sentence.

But even if the jury finds Mr. Baldwin not guilty, his legal troubles are not over.

He is facing several civil lawsuits, including one filed by Mrs. Hutchins’ family.

In a negligence lawsuit, they allege that the cameraman’s death and other injuries and deaths were “a likely result” of a film set with guns, live ammunition and that the actor “inexplicably” pointed a gun at Ms. Hutchins and shot.

Mr. Baldwin has indicated in recent court documents that he has had difficulty finding acting work since the incident.

In May, the actor and his wife Hilaria announced that they and their seven children would star in a reality show next year.

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