Alec Baldwin’s role as a producer will not be considered during ‘Rust’ trial, judge rules

In a significant victory for the defense, Alec Baldwin’s role as a producer on the film “Rust” will not be considered during his involuntary manslaughter trial in the fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled Monday.

Baldwin’s position as a producer has consistently been part of the prosecution’s strategy as they have sought to show he had more responsibility and influence on the set than just as an actor. In court Monday, the prosecution said as producer he should have been aware of set safety requirements, while Baldwin’s defense said this evidence was prejudicial and confusing to the jury.

In issuing her ruling, the judge admitted she struggled to understand the prosecution’s arguments.

“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.

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

“The probative value is not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice and certainly confusion of issues to the jury, so I’m denying evidence of his status as a producer,” she concluded.

Alec Baldwin appears in court during a hearing on Monday, July 8. - Pool
Alec Baldwin appears in court during a hearing on Monday, July 8. - Pool

Now, with the judge not allowing evidence related to his role as a producer, the jury will consider Baldwin solely as an actor who was holding the gun as part of his role – not as the boss or as a supervisor who was responsible for set safety.

The decision was one of a number of key evidentiary rulings made during a hearing Monday, just one day before jury selection is set to begin in the case. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

The case stems from the fatal shooting of Hutchins on October 21, 2021, at a New Mexico ranch as they rehearsed the Western film “Rust.” Baldwin was practicing a “cross draw” – pulling a gun from a holster on the opposite side of his body from his draw hand – with a prop gun when it fired a live round, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

Prosecutors charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter, saying he was negligent and reckless in his handling of the gun. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and has said he did not pull the trigger and did not know there were live rounds in the firearm.

Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the armorer and props assistant for “Rust” who loaded the firearm, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in March. She was sentenced to the maximum 18 months in prison.

Dave Halls, the assistant director who yelled “cold gun” and handed it to Baldwin, agreed to plead no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon, the district attorney’s office announced in January 2023.

Judge allows some videos of Baldwin

Other pretrial rulings on Monday dealt with videos of Baldwin’s behavior on set, the relevance of some evidence and whether certain witnesses can testify.

In one ruling, the judge determined prosecutors can show videos from the set of Baldwin’s handling of the firearm. Prosecutors have said the videos show him improperly handling the gun, including engaging in horseplay with the revolver and placing his finger on the trigger during scenes where he was not required to shoot the firearm.

However, the judge ruled prosecutors cannot introduce videos of him yelling or screaming at people on set, saying they were not relevant to the charge.

Prosecutors will be allowed to show video of Hutchins after she was shot and photos of her autopsy, the judge ruled. The defense had argued this evidence would be prejudicial to the jury, but prosecutors said it was necessary to their case.

Further, the judge ruled to exclude a letter from about 25 crew members defending the safety on set. The judge said the letter was hearsay and cannot be used as evidence at trial unless one of the trial witnesses participated in the letter.

Several other decisions went for the defense. In one, the judge ruled they can question Souza, the director, about his civil lawsuit against Baldwin and question his motives. In another, the judge ruled the defense can seek testimony from Robert Shilling, a former investigator for the prosecution who criticized the quality of the investigation.

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