Prosecutor Paints Alec Baldwin as 'Reckless' in Opening Statements at “Rust” Trial

The actor's lawyer, however, argued "this was an unspeakable tragedy" but "Alec Baldwin committed no crime"

<p>Ross D. Franklin - Pool/Getty</p> Alec Baldwin in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 10, 2024

Ross D. Franklin - Pool/Getty

Alec Baldwin in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 10, 2024

Alec Baldwin’s "reckless" behavior on the set of Rust directly contributed to the accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, special prosecutor Erlinda Johnson told a New Mexico jury in her opening statement July 10, the first day of the actor’s involuntary manslaughter trial.

“When someone plays make-believe with a real gun in a real-life workplace, and while playing make-believe with that gun violates the cardinal rules of firearm safety, people’s lives are endangered and someone could be killed," she said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, that’s 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,” she continued, using the 66-year-old actor's real name.

Baldwin was holding a prop gun while rehearsing a scene on the set of Rust in 2021 when it discharged, injuring director Joel Souza and killing Hutchins.

<p>Ross D. Franklin - Pool/Getty</p> Alec Baldwin in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 10, 2024

Ross D. Franklin - Pool/Getty

Alec Baldwin in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on July 10, 2024

Baldwin, who has insisted he did not pull the trigger or know why the gun contained live ammunition, has pleaded not guilty to one charge of involuntary manslaughter. He faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

"You will also learn that this workplace had some talented people and one of those was the director of photography, a vibrant, 42-year-old rising star named Halyna Hutchins,” continued Johnson.

<p>Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock </p> Alec Baldwin on the set of 'Rust'

Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock

Alec Baldwin on the set of 'Rust'

Related: Everything to Know About the Rust Shooting Case and Alec Baldwin's Upcoming Trial

"You will also learn that the director of this film was Joel Souza, another talented individual who cares deeply for his projects. The evidence will show, ladies and gentlemen, that like in many workplaces, there are people who act in a reckless manner and place other individuals in danger and act without due regard to the safety of others. That, you will hear, was the defendant, Alexander Baldwin, the lead actor on this film," she added.

<p>Ross D. Franklin - Pool/Getty</p> Alec Baldwin in court on July 10, 2024

Ross D. Franklin - Pool/Getty

Alec Baldwin in court on July 10, 2024

Johnson also claimed Baldwin repeatedly "mishandled" the gun and declined to do safety checks.

On the day of the fatal accident, "once again, the defendant failed to do a gun check or a safety check with [armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed]," continued Johnson, who alleged he violated "set safety rules."

She noted that Baldwin insisted he did not pull the trigger, but promised jurors they would hear from multiple experts that the gun would not discharge unless the trigger was pulled.

While Johnson spoke, Baldwin took notes for much of the time and kept his head down while sitting between his attorneys.

Baldwin’s attorney Alex Spiro emphasized in his opening statement that Baldwin was operating as actors normally do on a movie set involving weapons. He added at one point, “This is a homicide trial” and the prosecutors “don’t have any evidence of actual homicide.”

“You will learn the truth,” Spiro told the jury. “Not a day goes by when we don’t wish Alec had saved her life. But never, the witnesses will tell you, in history is [this] something that an actor has done — intercepted a live bullet from a prop gun. No actor in history. No one could have imagined or expected an actor to do that. So just remember that truth…. Justice is truth."

"This was an unspeakable tragedy. Alec Baldwin committed no crime," he said.

Fred Hayes/Getty Halyna Hutchins
Fred Hayes/Getty Halyna Hutchins

The highly-publicized trial marks the culmination of a dramatic three-year period for Baldwin, who publicly proclaimed his innocence in multiple interviews. He was investigated for his role in the accident, and prosecutors indicted him on involuntary manslaughter charges in January 2023, accusing him of “extremely reckless acts.”

Just three months later, the prosecutors resigned and the case’s new special prosecutors, Kari T. Morrissey and Jason J. Lewis (who has also since stepped down) announced that they were dropping charges against Baldwin, citing “new facts” in the case. They also said they reserved the right to re-charge him.

That June, the prosecutors wrote in a court filing that the gun Baldwin was holding had been sent to an independent expert for further testing to see if it could discharge if the trigger was not pulled.

“The charges against Alec Baldwin were dismissed without prejudice because a possible malfunction of the gun significantly effects causation with regard to Baldwin, not with regard to Gutierrez. If it is determined that the gun did not malfunction, charges against Mr. Baldwin will proceed,” they wrote.

<p>John Lamparski/Getty</p> Alec Baldwin on March 6, 2023

John Lamparski/Getty

Alec Baldwin on March 6, 2023

In their August report, forensics experts Lucien C. Haag and Mike Haag found that the trigger must have been pulled “sufficiently” for it to fire.

“Although Alec Baldwin repeatedly denies pulling the trigger, given the tests, findings and observations reported here, the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver,” the Haags wrote.

The prosecutors then told Baldwin’s attorneys they intended to present that information to a grand jury, and offered him a lenient plea deal with no jail time, but they rescinded it for several reasons before Baldwin could accept.

In January, Morrissey presented her case to a grand jury, which ultimately indicted Baldwin on one charge of involuntary manslaughter (negligent use of a firearm) or alternatively, with involuntary manslaughter (without due caution or circumspection).

Related: Alec Baldwin Is 'Understandably Worried' as His Rust Involuntary Manslaughter Trial Looms (Exclusive Source)

Since he was indicted, his legal team has filed multiple motions to have the charge dismissed ahead of trial. In each case, the judge overseeing the case, Mary Marlowe Sommer, declined to do so.

Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was in charge of the weapons on the set of the movie, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her role in Hutchins’ death.

A month later, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison — the maximum punishment — by Sommer, the same judge in Baldwin’s trial.

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