AFP10 July 2024 | 17:36

Baldwin trial hears actor broke 'cardinal' safety rules

Baldwin was holding a prop revolver during the fateful rehearsal in October 2021 when it fired a live round, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding the movie's director.

Baldwin trial hears actor broke 'cardinal' safety rules

A still from a video clip played in court shows actor Alec Baldwin during Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s involuntary manslaughter trial at the First Judicial District Courthouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico on 29 February 2024. Picture: AFP

SANTA FE, UNITED STATES - Alec Baldwin was accused of playing "make believe" with a deadly weapon, as the Hollywood star's trial for involuntary manslaughter over a fatal shooting on the set of Western movie Rust began Wednesday.

Baldwin was holding a prop revolver during the fateful rehearsal in October 2021 when it fired a live round, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding the movie's director.

Prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson kicked off opening statements in a Santa Fe court, painting a picture of a powerful movie star who broke basic gun safety rules, and acted recklessly on set.

Baldwin played "make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety," she told the jury.

The film's armourer, Hannah Gutierrez, has already been convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

Baldwin, 66, could face the same term if found guilty.

The actor appeared in the courtroom in the southwestern state of New Mexico on Wednesday wearing a dark suit and tie, and chatted quietly with his wife Hilaria and brother Stephen before opening statements began.

He has said that he did not know the gun was loaded, and denies that he pulled the revolver's trigger.

His celebrity lawyer Alex Spiro has already warned jurors their feelings about Baldwin's high-profile career - including his Donald Trump impersonations for Saturday Night Live - cannot cloud their judgments.

Spiro's team is expected to portray Baldwin as a victim who was not responsible for checking the weapon in his role as an actor.

The judge has ruled that Baldwin's additional role as a producer on "Rust" is not relevant to the case.


Hutchins, the victim, was originally from Ukraine, and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle.

She moved to the United States, and her career as a Hollywood cinematographer was thriving when she was killed, at the age of 42.

The tragedy occurred during a rehearsal in a small chapel on the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a historic location for Western movies, on a sunny afternoon mid-way through the filming of Rust.

Baldwin was preparing for a scene in which his character, a grizzled outlaw who has been trapped in the church by two marshals, brandishes his Colt six-shooter.

The actor says he was informed the gun was safe, and was instructed by Hutchins to aim the revolver toward her camera, when it misfired.

An FBI report contradicted part of Baldwin's story, concluding that the revolver could not have fired without its trigger being pulled.

Prosecutors will present witnesses including the gun's manufacturer to support that finding.

But those FBI tests damaged the weapon. And the defense have claimed they were robbed of a chance to disprove the report's findings.

Live bullets are typically banned from movie sets.


Following Wednesday's opening arguments, the jury will hear testimony from witnesses expected to include Joel Souza, the Rust director who was wounded in the shooting.

Other possible witnesses include David Halls - the film's first assistant director, who pled guilty to negligence in a deal that ensured he avoided prison time - and prop firearms supplier Seth Kenney.

It is not yet known if Baldwin plans to take the stand in his defense. Legal experts say it would be a risky move, exposing the allegedly temperamental actor to hostile cross-examination.

Gutierrez, the armourer, did not testify in her own defence.

Baldwin's trial is scheduled to conclude on Friday of next week. Jury deliberations could extend into the following week.