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Baldwin Hearing Continues Monday

One pre-trial motion remains before the court

Letters to the Editor (Courtesy Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department)

A pretrial motion hearing that lasted all day Friday will continue Monday, June 24, following technical difficulties that sent the court into recess.

First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer has one pre-trial motion left on which to rule in the involuntary manslaughter case against Rust star and producer Alec Baldwin for the Oct. 21, 2021 fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

That motion involves defense’s request to dismiss the case due to destruction of evidence, specifically the gun Baldwin used on set. During testimony, witness Lucien Haag, who owns his own forensic consulting firm with a specialty in firearms evidence in Arizona, told the court he was having trouble hearing defense attorneys during cross examination.

Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro petitioned the court to go in recess, saying “the issues are just too serious” and the team would not be able to rest as they had more evidence to introduce and didn’t get a fair shot at cross examination due to the audio problems.

Special Prosecutor Kari Morrissey questioned if that meant defense attorneys intended to bring new witnesses before the court. Spiro said he’d have to meet with his colleagues and decide, adding what happened in the court today was “troubling to put it lightly.”

“Having practiced in many states, it’s very rare I’m put in a position where reports are hidden, witnesses change their answers in this kind of manner, and I hope the court will take it seriously,” Spiro said. “We’re certainly taking it seriously…I’m going to ask for more time, so I’m just being direct with the court on where we are.”

Prior to the cutoff, Haag told the court after reviewing the reports, certain footage and other evidence in the case, the gun seemed to function “as intended and designed by the manufacturer,” adding he believed any damage to the weapon occurred as a result of tests the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted on the weapon.

Bryce Ziegler, an FBI lab division forensic examiner in the firearms and toolmarks unit—told prosecutors he conducted several tests on the weapon’s functionality, including the accidental discharge test that destroyed the weapon which consisted of striking it with a rawhide mallet.

However, he added that, before the tests, “there was no apparent damage or modifications that would’ve rendered this firearm unsafe.”

Spiro argued “just because there’s not a catastrophic explosion of the gun during test firing, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible that there’s a malfunction.”

Defense attorneys questioned the need for the test in the first place, noting in Haag’s report on his own review of the weapon, he opined that the accidental discharge test was unnecessary.

The motion hearing will continue from 2:30 to 5:30 pm, Monday, June 24, Sommer said.

Prior to recess, Sommer denied motions from defense attorneys: to exclude state witnesses; to dismiss the case on the grounds of failure to state a criminal offense; and for use immunity for Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed from the state. The state withdrew a motion regarding a request for an assistant special prosecutor in the case.

In his arguments for the motion to dismiss for failure to state a criminal offense, defense attorney John Bash said state prosecutors have “abjured any ability” to demonstrate that Baldwin had “a subjective awareness of a substantial risk that the gun was loaded,” and therefore cannot be guilty under New Mexico law, which requires that awareness.

“It’s a logical legal question. The state has said that guns kill people—that’s true—they kill people when they are loaded with live ammunition. The state’s position cannot work logically…he can’t be guilty,” Bash said. “This was a movie set, it was a prop and he was told it was a cold gun. They cannot come into this trial and say he was subjectively aware of the risk.”

Furthermore, he added it seems the state’s position conflicts with its own previous arguments in the case against Gutierrez-Reed, in which, he argued, the state contended no one would have anticipated live rounds made it to the set and “it was completely foreseeable that Baldwin would manipulate the gun the way he did” during arguments.

In response, Morrissey contested Bash’s argument that guns only kill people when loaded with live ammunition, referencing The Crow’s Brandon Lee, who was struck and killed by a blank round on set in 1993.

She also noted Baldwin knew he had a real gun in his hand, pointed it and understood that dummy rounds look identical to live ammunition, among other factors.

“Mr. Baldwin didn’t necessarily have to know there were live rounds, he had to understand that the gun is dangerous,” Morrissey said. “The state isn’t stipulating that in order for the gun to kill someone it had to have live ammunition in it. Everyone knows that’s not true.”

Bash replied, saying even if the court were to add up disputed facts in the state’s favor, “it still doesn’t meet the legal elements” required.

Ultimately, Sommer denied the motion, saying “there do exist disputed facts before the court that are not capable of dismissal as a matter of law,” and those facts are for the jury to decide.

In mid-March, following Gutierrez-Reed’s conviction on the same charge, Baldwin asked the First Judicial District Court to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charge against him. Alex Spiro and Luke Nikas—the actor’s attorneys—argued the state prosecutors violated court orders as it pertained to the proceedings that indicted Baldwin the second time by refusing to present most of the “significant exculpatory and favorable witnesses and documents” provided by the defense to the jury—an argument Sommer rejected.

When denying a motion from defense to exclude witnesses from the state, Sommer said defense attorneys were notified in May that the state may call any defense witnesses listed to the stand, and pointed out the defense team had planned to use the witnesses themselves at one point.

Before her decision to not grant use immunity for Gutierrez-Reed, the former armorer’s defense attorney Jason Bowles informed the court she did not plan to cooperate. After hearing arguments, Sommer said “it was clear” Gutierrez-Reed does not intend to cooperate and answer questions, but does not have information that other witnesses could not provide.

Jury selection for Baldwin’s trial is slated for July 9, with the trial set to begin July 10. If convicted, he faces up to 18 months in prison. Sommer last month gave Gutierrez-Reed the maximum sentence for her negligent behavior in the same incident that resulted in Hutchins’ death. Gutierrez-Reed filed motions to appeal that determination and be released from prison in early May.

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