AFP7 July 2024 | 13:50

Alec Baldwin set for legal showdown over 'Rust' shooting

In October 2021, on the New Mexico set of his low-budget Western 'Rust,' a gun pointed by Baldwin discharged a live round, killing the film's cinematographer and wounding its director.

Alec Baldwin set for legal showdown over 'Rust' shooting

This handout file image courtesy of Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office released 25 April 2022, and part of the investigative files, shows actor Alec Baldwin being processed after the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Picture: Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office/AFP

LOS ANGELES - A long-awaited showdown will take place this week in a historic Wild West frontier town, with both sides seeking justice for a fatal bullet fired from a six-shooter.

But if Alec Baldwin's trial for manslaughter sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie, the victims, the stakes and the tragic consequences are all too real.

In October 2021, on the New Mexico set of his low-budget Western Rust, a gun pointed by Baldwin discharged a live round, killing the film's cinematographer and wounding its director.

Such is Baldwin's A-list fame and the rarity of on-set deaths in the tightly controlled US film industry, the story quickly became a global sensation.

It also polarized opinion, with sympathetic observers viewing Baldwin - an actor who did not know the prop gun contained a real bullet - as a victim, and others seeing the death as a result of his allegedly reckless behavior.

Almost three years later, after multiple failed attempts by Baldwin's formidable New York legal team to have the case thrown out, those same arguments will be settled by a jury at a court case in Santa Fe starting on Tuesday.

If found guilty, Baldwin faces a maximum 18 months in prison - the same term already being served by the film's armorer, who was convicted in the same courthouse earlier this year.


The death of Halyna Hutchins occurred during a rehearsal in a small chapel on the Bonanza Creek Ranch, 20 miles (30 kilometers) outside Santa Fe, 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 gun.

The actor says he did not pull the revolver's trigger and had been told that the gun was safe.

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

Yet the gun did go off. And the trial of Hannah Gutierrez, the armorer who loaded the weapon, revealed many of the arguments that the prosecution will level against Baldwin, who was also a producer on the movie.

At the time, 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," said special prosecutor Kari Morrissey, in a rare moment of agreement between the two sides.

"Not with you and not today. That'll be with another jury, on another day," Morrissey said.


That day has now arrived, with jury selection on Tuesday and opening arguments expected Wednesday.

That the matter is being heard in court at all is already a victory of sorts for prosecutors, who have fended off multiple attempts by Baldwin to have the case 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.

That is significant because the FBI found the gun could not have fired without its trigger being pulled - a conclusion that the defense say they were robbed of a chance to disprove.

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer was not convinced and ordered the trial to proceed.

Baldwin's team have also suggested that his status as a celebrity and liberal darling has provided incentives for prosecutors to pursue him with unusual tenacity.

The prosecution's response to recent pre-trial proceedings offered further insight into how they are likely to attack Baldwin in court.

Court filings allege that Baldwin's unpredictable behavior contributed to the tragedy and that he kept changing his story in its aftermath.

"Mr Baldwin was frequently screaming and cursing at himself, at crew members or at no one and not for any particular reason," Morrissey wrote.

"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."

The trial is expected to take around 10 days.