Baldwin reckless with revolver, prosecutor tells jury

A defence lawyer has told jurors the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was an "unspeakable tragedy" but that "Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting".

Baldwin's lawyer Alex Spiro emphasised in his opening statement on Wednesday in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtroom that Baldwin, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, did exactly what actors always do on the set of the film Rust, where Hutchins was killed in October 2021.

"I don't have to tell you any more about this, because you've all seen gunfights in movies," Spiro said.

Alex Spiro
Lawyer Alex Spiro says that even if Alec Baldwin pulled the trigger on a gun, it was not a crime. (EPA PHOTO)

Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson said in her opening statement that before the shooting, Baldwin skipped safety checks and recklessly handled a revolver.

"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," Ocampo Johnson said.

Spiro replied that "these cardinal rules, they're not cardinal rules on a movie set".

"On a movie set, safety has to occur before a gun is placed in an actor's hand," Spiro told the jury.

The first witness to take the stand was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Bonanza Creek Ranch after the shooting. Video shown in the courtroom from the body camera of Nicholas LeFleur, then a Santa Fe county sheriff's deputy, captured the frantic efforts to save Hutchins, who looked unconscious as several people attended to her and gave her an oxygen mask. In the courtroom, Baldwin looked at the screen sombrely as it played.

Ocampo Johnson in her opening walked the jurors through the events leading up to Hutchins death. She said on that day, Baldwin declined multiple opportunities for standard safety checks with armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed before the rehearsal in the small church about 30km from the courthouse where Hutchins, "a vibrant 42-year-old rising star," was killed. She said Baldwin instead "did his own thing."

"He cocks the hammer, points it straight at Miss Hutchins, and fires that gun, sending that live bullet right into Miss Hutchins body," said Ocampo Johnson.

The 16 jurors - 11 women and five men - come from a region with strong currents of gun ownership and safety informed by backcountry hunting. Four of the jurors will be deemed alternates while the other 12 deliberate once they get the case.

Hutchins' death and the wounding of director Joel Souza nearly three years ago sent shock waves through the film industry and led to one felony charge against Baldwin, 66, that could result in up to 18 months in prison.

Baldwin has claimed the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware that it was loaded with a live round, he said he pulled back the hammer - not the trigger - and it fired.

"No one saw him intentionally pull the trigger," Spiro said.

But he said even if Baldwin had pulled it, it still would not have been manslaughter.

"On a movie set, you're allowed to pull that trigger," Spiro said, adding, "that doesn't make it a homicide."

Spiro has in recent years become one of the most sought-after defence lawyers in the country. His clients have included Elon Musk, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Megan Thee Stallion.

Baldwin - the star of Beetlejuice, Glengarry Glen Ross and 30 Rock - has been a household name as an actor and public personality for more than three decades.

Spiro said in concluding his opening that witnesses will attest that "no actor in history" has "intercepted a live bullet from a prop gun".

"No one could have imagined or expected an actor to do that," the lawyer said.

Testimony at trial will delve into the mechanics of the weapon and whether it could have fired without a trigger pull. Prosecutors say it couldn't have.