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Alec Baldwin is on trial for involuntary manslaughter

Actor Alec Baldwin leaves court after jury selection on Tuesday. Baldwin's wife, Hilaria, and his brother, actor Stephen Baldwin, were with him in the courtroom.
Evan Agostini/Invision
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AP
Actor Alec Baldwin leaves court after jury selection on Tuesday. Baldwin's wife, Hilaria, and his brother, actor Stephen Baldwin, were with him in the courtroom.

Actor Alec Baldwin is on trial in New Mexico for involuntary manslaughter.

Opening arguments and testimony are set to begin Wednesday. On Tuesday, a jury of 11 women and five men, including alternates, was sworn in. Twelve of them will decide whether or not he will be found guilty.

In October 2021, Baldwin was rehearsing a scene with a gun for the film Rust on a ranch outside Santa Fe. The gun unexpectedly went off, fatally shooting cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

The 66-year-old actor faces up to 18 months in prison if he’s convicted, but has pleaded not guilty. Since the shooting, he’s maintained his innocence, saying he was not responsible for the live bullet that was loaded into what was supposed to be a blank prop gun.

A photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on display during a vigil in her honor in Albuquerque, N.M., in October 2021.
Andres Leighton / AP
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AP
A photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on display during a vigil in her honor in Albuquerque, N.M., in October 2021.

After the accident, Baldwin went on national television to walk through the events on set at Bonanza Creek Ranch. He told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he was handed the revolver and someone yelled “cold gun,” meaning the gun did not have live rounds.

“I take the gun and I start to cock the gun,” Baldwin explained on TV. “I let go of the hammer of the gun and the gun goes off…I didn't pull the trigger.”

That interview and other statements he made to the press and to police may be part of the evidence presented during his trial. New Mexico special prosecutor Kari Morrissey says she intends to prove his criminal culpability.

Alec Baldwin gestures while talking with investigators following the fatal on-set shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021. Video of the conversation was released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in 2022.
Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office / AP
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AP
Alec Baldwin gestures while talking with investigators following the fatal on-set shooting that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021. Video of the conversation was released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in 2022.

“Mr. Baldwin knew he had a real gun in his hand. Mr. Baldwin specifically asked for the biggest gun that was available. Mr. Baldwin knew and understood that dummy rounds look identical to live ammunition,” Morrissey told the judge in a pretrial hearing two weeks ago. Morrissey said Baldwin didn’t pay attention during a safety training on set. “Halyna Hutchins is dead,” she said, “because he didn't participate in the safety check.”

Prosecutors had hoped to argue that as one of the film's producers, Baldwin should be held even more responsible for the lack of safety on the set. But the state suffered a major setback during a pretrial hearing earlier this week when the judge ruled that Baldwin can only be considered for his actions as an actor.

Rust armorer is already behind bars

The film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, was responsible for guns and ammunition on the set. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year and is serving an 18-month prison sentence. Prosecutors argued that her negligence on set led to Halyna Hutchins’ death.

“I am saddened by the way the media sensationalized our traumatic tragedy and portrayed me as a complete monster, which has actually been the total opposite of what's been in my heart,” Gutierrez-Reed read aloud in a statement during her trial. “When I took on Rust, I was young and I was being naive, but I took my job as seriously as I knew how to. Despite not having proper time, resources and staffing when things got tough, I just did my best to handle it.”

State prosecutors indicated they may call Gutierrez-Reed to testify as a witness in Baldwin's trial, but it's not clear if she will end up taking the stand. Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer, who presided over her trial and will preside over Baldwin’s, said in a recent hearing that the armorer would likely not cooperate.

Possible testimony at Baldwin’s trial

Also on the witness list prosecutors submitted for the trial: director Souza, script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and prop master Sarah Zachry, who were all on the set the day of the shooting. Film armorers Seth Kenney and Bryan W. Carpenter and firearms expert Lucien Haag may also be called on as experts.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who worked as armorer on the set of <em>Rust </em>in New Mexico, arrives at her sentencing hearing in April. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March and is serving an 18-month sentence.
Eddie Moore / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who worked as armorer on the set of Rust in New Mexico, arrives at her sentencing hearing in April. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in March and is serving an 18-month sentence.

Among those Baldwin’s attorneys may call to the witness stand is Rust assistant director David Halls. Last year, he was convicted of unsafe handling of a firearm during the production; at the time, he agreed to testify truthfully at any upcoming hearings or trials related to the Rust shooting.

Baldwin’s attempts to dismiss the charges against him

Baldwin’s attorneys also tried several last-ditch efforts to get the case against their client thrown out. Most recently, they blamed prosecutors for deliberately allowing the gun to be damaged during testing after the shooting. During a pretrial hearing two weeks ago, an FBI agent said he tested the gun to see if it would fire accidentally without pulling the trigger, even if it was jolted violently. He testified that he hammered the gun from different angles with a rawhide mallet. As a result, the gun was broken into pieces.

“It's kind of ironic in a case conceivably about an accident, the state somehow gets away with intentionally destroying the key evidence and depriving the defense of that evidence,” Baldwin’s attorney Alex Spiro told Judge Sommer. She ruled, however, that prosecutors did not act in bad faith when ordering the test and moved to proceed with the trial.

Meanwhile, Baldwin has been busy in Hollywood

Baldwin has been busy working in Hollywood for the past few years. He’s starring as a logger in the action thriller Clear Cut, which comes out in theaters and on demand July 19, the same day Judge Sommer has said she wants the trial to end.

Baldwin, his wife Hilaria and their seven children recently announced they’ll star in an upcoming reality series on TLC, “The Baldwins.”

Meanwhile, production of the indie film Rust finished last year in Montana, with Halyna Hutchins’ widower Matthew as executive producer — a position he negotiated as part of the wrongful death settlement he made with the production company.

It’s still unclear exactly when or where that film will be shown; Rust still doesn’t have distribution deals.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Mandalit del Barco
As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.