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Alec Baldwin arrives in court for start of ‘Rust’ manslaughter trial

By AFP - Jul 10,2024 - Last updated at Jul 10,2024

US actor Alec Baldwin (second right) arrives for jury selection in his trial for involuntary manslaughter in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

SANTA FE, United States — Alec Baldwin arrived at a New Mexico courthouse on Tuesday for the start of his long-awaited involuntary manslaughter trial over a fatal shooting on the set of a Western movie.

The Hollywood A-lister was pointing a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal for a scene in “Rust” when it discharged a live round, killing her and wounding the movie’s director.

Baldwin, 66, says he did not know the gun was loaded and did not pull the trigger. Prosecutors say he acted recklessly on set and has repeatedly changed his story since the tragic events of October 2021.

After multiple attempts by Baldwin’s lawyers to have the case thrown out all failed, the matter will now be settled at a courthouse in Santa Fe.

Jury selection was due to get under way on Tuesday morning, with opening arguments expected to follow on Wednesday. The entire trial is scheduled to last around 10 days.

Due to the “30 Rock” actor’s immense fame, and the rarity of on-set deaths, the story has garnered global attention while sharply polarising opinion.

Sympathetic observers view Baldwin as a victim who has been pursued by prosecutors in part due to his status as a celebrity and liberal darling.

Others see the death as the easily avoidable result of a movie star’s allegedly unpredictable and complacent behaviour.

“To watch Mr Baldwin’s conduct on the set of ‘Rust’ is to witness a man who has absolutely no control of his own emotions and absolutely no concern for how his conduct affects those around him,” special prosecutor Kari Morrissey has said.

If found guilty, Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison. It is not yet known if he plans to take the stand in his defence.

Hutchins’s death occurred almost three years ago, during a rehearsal in a small chapel on the Bonanza Creek Ranch, on a sunny afternoon mid-way through the filming of “Rust”,

Baldwin was practicing a scene in which his character, an aging outlaw who has been cornered in the church by two marshals, draws his Colt six-shooter.

The actor said he was told the gun was safe, was instructed by Hutchins to aim the revolver in her direction, and did not pull the trigger.

Live bullets are in any case banned from movie sets, and Baldwin has said it was not his responsibility as an actor to check.

Filming of “Rust” was halted by the tragedy, but completed last year on location in Montana.

Earlier this year the film’s armourer was convicted of manslaughter in the same courthouse, and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Her trial revealed arguments the prosecution will likely level against Baldwin.

At the time, armourer Hannah Gutierrez’s defense lawyers said Baldwin “violated some of the most basic gun safety rules you can ever learn”, including never pointing a gun at a person unless you intend to fire it.

“Alec Baldwin’s conduct and his lack of gun safety inside that church on that day is something that he’s going to have to answer for,” responded Morrissey.

“Not with you and not today. That’ll be with another jury, on another day.”

Defence boost

That day has now arrived.

On Monday, Baldwin — dressed in a dark suit and striped tie, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and with his hair clipped short — attended court and took notes as lawyers settled various pre-trial matters.

In a boost for the defence, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled prosecutors cannot argue Baldwin’s additional role as a producer on “Rust” makes him more culpable.

But the case finally arriving in court is already a victory for prosecutors, who have fended off multiple attempts to have it dismissed.

Among these, Baldwin’s lawyers said damage to the gun caused by an FBI testing lab meant the actor could not get a fair trial.

The FBI found the gun could not have fired without its trigger being pulled — a conclusion the defense say they were robbed of a chance to disprove.

The judge was not convinced, and ordered the trial to proceed.

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